All My Sins Remembered

Posted: July 17, 2006 in 2006 Elections

“Lamont, in thy candidacy be all my sins remembered.”
Photo from the Associated Press/LA Times/Hartford Courant

Following up on the challenge to Joe Lieberman in the Connecticut primary, I was doing some reading in several newspaper accounts. While most of them seem to mention Lieberman’s unwavering support of the Iraq war as the reason that he is the target of liberal bloggers, I did some digging at several prominent liberal blogs who are leading the opposition to Lieberman. While the war is a big issue with all of them, each have their own axe to grind with Lieberman, over less publicized issues than Iraq, some of which I didn’t even know about until I started looking into this.

Before I continue this post, in the interest of full disclosure I have no personal interest nor political affiliation for or against Ned Lamont, Joe Lieberman, or Alan Schlesinger. I have no ties or past residency to the state of Connecticut either. I’m writing on this purely as an outside observer looking in.

Rather than write about each issue myself, I will link to a different bloggers’ comments on the issues where they criticize Lieberman’s record.

Terri Schiavo.
Abu Ghraib, Clinton impeachment, and confirmation of Alberto Gonzales.

Defending President Bush from Democratic critics over the Iraq war.

Voting against the Senate Democrats’ filibuster of Samuel Alito.
Emergency contraception/reproductive rights issues.
Social Security.
His mild-mannered performance during the 2000 vice presidential debate against Dick Cheney, compared to his aggressive tone during the recent debate with Ned Lamont.

I don’t think any of these issues individually would be enough to propel a serious challenger to Lieberman or any longtime incumbent. However, as I said a few days earlier, in Lieberman’s case unfortunately for him, he happens to represent a liberal, solidly blue state in New England. His positions on the issues I’ve linked to in this post, as highlighted by partisan bloggers working for his defeat, do not help to endear him with partisan liberal Democrats who tend to come out and vote in low turnout primary contests during congressional midterm elections.

Hartford Courant columnist Paul Bass went through the skeletons in Lieberman’s closet.

The Hotline’s Chuck Todd nailed it as best as any political reporter I’ve seen, getting right to the heart of Lieberman’s problems and all of the issues that are fueling the Ned Lamont insurgency in this column from last week.

First and foremost, Lieberman’s problems aren’t all about Iraq.

His unwavering support for President Bush on Iraq was simply the tipping point. If this was just about Iraq, then many of the rank-and-file Democratic activists who are supporting Lamont would be biting their tongues on Iraq and sticking with Lieberman. The “Iraq” in this equation has been oversimplified.

Lieberman has been living on the edge with the party’s base for some time, beginning with his “sermon on the mount” critique of former President Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky mess. During the 2000 campaign, there were two moments many Democrats won’t ever forget involving Lieberman: (1) his overly nice-guy approach toward Dick Cheney in the vice presidential debate; and (2) when he went against Al Gore’s legal team in regards to the rules involving military ballots.

Individually, these moments were painted positively by the press, and they added to Lieberman’s reputation as a different kind of politician.

But, taken in total, these deviations from the party paint a picture of Lieberman as a “me-first” politician to the extreme. (I say “extreme” because all politicians are “me-first” to a point.) In short, many Democrats believe Lieberman has built his national reputation by contrasting himself in a positive light against rank-and-file party members. It’s not dissimilar to what some conservatives have charged Rhode Island Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee with doing over the years. It’s one thing to be a conservative Democrat; it’s another thing to enhance that image by trashing parts of the party to which you purport to belong.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the tactical blunders by Lieberman and/or his campaign operatives. The key one to me is his decision to try to get on the November ballot as a petitioning third party candidate if he loses the Democratic nomination in the August primary vote. Chuck Todd writes about it in the same column:

Frankly, Lieberman’s decision to prepare a backup plan may undermine his own cause in the primary. Think about Lamont’s main grievance against Lieberman: that the incumbent is not a real Democrat. By prepping an indepedent run, Lieberman is proving Lamont’s charge true. What message is Lieberman sending other than “When the going gets tough, the tough get going right out of the Democratic Party”? Remember Gore’s critique of Bill Bradley in the 2000 Democratic primary that the former New Jersey senator didn’t “stay and fight”? The same charge certainly applies here.

Lieberman appears to be making strategic decisions out of anger. He’s clearly irked that he’s become the liberal wing’s whipping boy. Considering some of the venom that’s being spewed at him, he can get sympathy on a personal level. But Lieberman has prided himself on not being an angry pol, and that he is somehow different from “regular” politicians.

Well, sour-grape independent candidacies are run by angry pols. And frankly, if you are a Lieberman supporter, don’t get too confident that your man can win a three-way race as an independent.

In closing, I’ll say again that there’s no one single issue that’s driving the liberal bloggers and the Lamont campaign. It would be very difficult, if not impossible, for a political novice like Ned Lamont to challenge or defeat a veteran three term incumbent like Joe Lieberman only on the basis of one issue. Lieberman has burned his bridges with the Democratic base on a lot of issues over the years, and as I said a few days ago, now everyone who’s ever had an axe to grind with him is coming out of the woodwork.

Update: Atrios wrote an op-ed on this for the LA Times.

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