August 9th, 2006

Brad @ Burning Man

Joe Lieberman doesn't get it, does he?

Two sentences in the middle of Joe Lieberman's concession speech jumped out at me, because they perfectly explain why he lost, and why he deserved to lose, and that he still doesn't understand either of those things.

"The old politics of partisan polarization won today," said Lieberman. I can't possibly put it any more snarkily (or accurately) than the "Billmon's Whiskey Bar" blog did, when they captioned their link to an article about his concession speech "Unintentional Honesty Department" and summed it up as, "Joe's right: A Republican got beat by a Democrat. Doesn't get much more partisan than that."

But just in case it needs to be clearer than that, there's a difference between "triangulation" and "surrender." When then-governor Bill Clinton took over the caucus of Democrats for the Leisure Class and announced the formation of a new political philosophy called "Third-Way Liberalism," his policy was more accurately labeled by political analysts as something not nearly so new after all: triangulation. The American people sense (usually but not always correctly) that the truth, the answer, is somewhere between the extremes of two warring sides, so the fastest way to the American people's hearts is to split the difference. It's the same thing that George W. Bush (deeply dishonestly) claimed to be doing when he invented "Compassionate Conservativism." Now, I'm not a huge fan of triangulation as a policy in and of itself. Split the difference is bad policy when the choice is between good and evil. Now I'm the first to admit that choices that stark are scarce, but they do happen. More importantly, that kind of reliance on the old dialectic of Hegel makes it easy for your opponents to manipulate you -- all they have to do is pretend to be even more strident and demanding than they actually are. But that being said, Joe Lieberman (like most DLC members) rode to political power on the admittedly winning strategy of triangulation.

However, he didn't stay there. Tugged by his religious leanings, and by the same cowardice that motivates the Republicans that sees Islamist nuclear suicide bombers behind every tree and shrub, Joe Lieberman has let himself be "triangulated" into the same position that Hillary Clinton is in: there is, quite simply, no meaningful difference between what he supports, what he says, and what he does and the things that are supported, said, and done by the Republicans -- and not even moderate Republicans. He may be Jewish, but his votes and even moreso his speeches have been in perfect alignment with the theocratic "Christian Right." He calls this bipartisanship, and acts as if he believes that it is his duty while the nation is at (phony) war, as if it's the duty of everybody, to concede all power and all decision-making authority to the Commander in Chief. Long before 2006, he completely surrendered to the Republicans, became one himself in all but name, without the guts to officially change his party affiliation and run for re-election in the Republican primary where he belonged instead of the Democratic primary.

But nobody who advocates this strategy, from either party, has ever been able to answer me one simple question. If people like Joe Lieberman are right and the only way to win elections in this country is to pretend to be a Republican because the voters want people with Republican values to win, what on earth makes you think that they'd choose a Republican who denies he's a Republican over a Republican who's proud to be a Republican?

Ned Lamont may lose. He's a political novice, with a scanty resumé. He probably won't lose, for the same reason that Lieberman didn't have the guts to renounce his Democratic affiliation and run as a Republican -- calling yourself a Democrat in Connecticut is almost essential to win. But the failed Dean Crusade was a vivid reminder that net-roots activists don't reliably show up to vote in November, and it's well within Lamont's power to screw up pretty badly before then. So Lieberman's sour-grapes run as an Independent, taking full advantage of the huge sums of money he was able to raise as a 3-term senator with a Rolodex stuffed with fund-raising contacts from his vice presidential run, might yet defeat Lamont, and whoever the Republicans are pretending to run on their own ticket. But if he loses, it'll be because someone who actually stands up for the Democratic Party got up in front of the public, made the case for our ideals, and lost fair and square. And if we're ever going to convince people that the "supply side" voodoo economics fad was a lie, that tax cuts for the rich don't do anything but make the rich richer, that "free trade" agreements with no protections for workers in America or anywhere else are a recipe for global serfdom, and that invading countries that have never attacked us and weren't ever planning to do so doesn't exactly qualify as a plan to make American ideals more popular around the world, then we've got to start running people who have the guts to stand up and say that.

Oh, and speaking of Lieberman's demand for a free "do-over," his disgusting promise to run against Lamont again in November, despite the fact that he's already lost to Lamont once, the second sentence that leaped out at me from his concession speech was ...

"I cannot and will not let that result stand." At what point is it going to occur to Lieberman that one of the cardinal rules of politics, going all the way back to Jefferson's time, is that if your preferred candidate loses in caucus or primary your minimum obligation is to shut the heck up, and the only decent thing to do is to go out and (at least half-heartedly) campaign for your party's candidate? As weak a candidate as Lamont is, and as narrow as the margin of victory was, it's entirely possible that if Lieberman hadn't petulantly threatened to run as an Independent if he lost the primary, he might have actually won. But it's proof that he doesn't understand the first thing about how he lost that he put that his promise to continue to run in the most terrifying, chilling way he could have. Yes, folks, Joe Lieberman just said that he won't let the results of a vote stand. Joe Lieberman is right, and the voters are wrong, so he feels obligated to do the opposite of what the majority of the voters asked him to do, to step down. How can you possibly do that and pretend that you believe in democracy, let alone the Democratic Party? "Après moi, le deluge" is not the kind of thing that you say if you're a believer in freedom and democracy.