Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Lamont beats Lieberman

From CNN: "With 95 percent of the precincts reporting, Lamont led Lieberman 52 percent to 48 percent."

According to the Hartford Courant, Joe Lieberman conceded at 11:03 pm last night. In his victory speech, Ned Lamont said that "[i]t's time we fixed George Bush's failed foreign policy" -- meaning, of course, Iraq, the war that Lieberman continues to support alongside Bush. But don't count Lieberman out quite yet. He intends on running as an independent: "As I see it, in this campaign we just finished the first half and the Lamont team is ahead. But in the second half our team, Team Connecticut, is going to surge forward to victory in November."

"Will you join me?" asked Lieberman. Leading Democrats like the pro-Lieberman Clintons likely won't. Both have said they'd support the Democratic nominee no matter who it is. And it may very well be that other pro-Lieberman Democrats -- including the other senator from Connecticut, Christopher Dodd -- also back away from an independent Lieberman candidacy, preferring party unity over divisiveness even if Lamont isn't quite to their liking.

The Washington Post is reporting that Lieberman "appeared almost exuberant in defeat," but that exuberance may wane once reality sets in. I suspect that both the Democratic establishment (both in Connecticut and around the country) and Democratic voters in Connecticut will turn to Lamont. Lieberman could hold on to some moderate Democrats and long-time loyalists in a three-way race against Lamont and the Republican candidate, but he would need to win most of the independent vote and a solid segment of the Republican vote in order to prevail in November. Independents could turn to him as a martyr, but it's not clear that Republicans would support him in large enough numbers to push him over the top.

The poll numbers have looked good for an independent Lieberman candidacy, but it doesn't seem likely to me that he'll be able to muster enough support to beat Lamont. November is still a long way off, however. This loss could energize Lieberman, and, with neither party doing all that well in terms of public opinion, it is possible that Lieberman could excite just enough voters to win a three-way race by running as an outsider, as a independent above partisan politics, as a maverick defeated by partisan politics.

As I have argued before, there should be room for Joe Lieberman in the Democratic Party. But he was in the wrong place at the wrong time and he has done far too much to alienate himself from both establishment and grassroots/netroots Democrats. Like Peter Beinart, I admired his independent streak (or "liberal iconoclasm") when Clinton was in the White House. I saw him as a valuable contributor to Democratic politics. With Bush in the White House, however, his independence has looked more like sycophancy, like knee-jerk stubbornness, like cowardice. Indeed, his "independence" has amounted to little more than acting as Bush's Democratic spokesman. Republicans have used him to make the case that Democrats are divided. He has played his role well. Much to Republicans' delight. Is it any wonder blue-state Democrats have defeated him?

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I do not think that he should not run as an independent. That's about as decisive as I can be tonight. Unlike most of my liberal friends, I resisted taking sides in the Connecticut primary -- I don't much like either Lamont or Lieberman.

But Perhaps Lamont will surprise me. Perhaps as I pay close attention to the upcoming campaign I'll come to see that he's more than just a convenient vehicle for interests far larger than he could ever be. Or perhaps Lieberman will impress me like it's 2000 all over again. Anything is possible.

But am I with you, Senator Lieberman? Will I join you? No. Not yet. And perhaps not at all in this campaign. Although I have admired you in the past, and although I am a big-tent Democrat who still thinks you have much to offer the Democratic Party, I'm uncomfortable with an independent candidacy against the winner of the Democratic primary and, regardless, like so many others in the party, I've been opposed to the positions you've taken in recent years on certain key issues like Iraq.

You speak eloquently for independent as opposed to partisan politics, but I'm just not sure you get it anymore. When the other side, Bush's side, is doing so much harm both to America and to the world beyond, it's imperative to take sides, to take the right side, to stand in opposition to the other side. It's possible to do that while avoiding extremism and while retaining diversity and difference on our side. Not all of us will agree on what to do, after all, but at least we can agree that something needs to be done to change the direction the country is taking -- a direction determined by Bush and the Republicans. Do you not see that they are brutally partisan themselves? Do you not see that they have used you at the expense of your own party? Do you not see that they are very much the problem?

I wonder. Perhaps you don't. Or perhaps you don't care. Perhaps you cling to delusions of independence and bipartisanship even in this age of hyperpartisanship. But then you must excuse Democrats, even some Democrats who might otherwise be inclined to support you and who do not celebrate your fall, for concluding that you are indeed the wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time -- and that a change in your own state is necessary.

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