Why was Joe Lieberman able to accept defeat when he actually won and unable to do so when he actually lost? Beats me, or does it? I remember years back when Jack Javits lost his party’s primary and insisted running on the independent Liberal line. That act of self indulgence, gave New York and the country Al Damato. Javits, suffering at the time from ALS, knew that he was terminally ill but personal vanity would not permit him to let go. What a tragic end to a proud and distinguished career of public service.
I don’t think it was the War alone that helped defeat Lieberman. To be sure his stance on it coupled with his mystifying coziness with George Bush played a huge role in yesterday’s primary. But it may also be that Joe Lieberman and his particular kind of centrist politics simply doesn’t cut it any more. Let’s not forget that he was absolutely trounced in the last Presidential cycle where voters consistently rejected him and where, to a large extent, he became more of a caricature than a seriously considered candidate. Incumbency both hurt and helped Lieberman yesterday. On the one hand, interviews suggest, a significant number of his constituents have come to believe that their Senator had lost touch since Al Gore infected him with the national office bug in 2000. That cost him. At the same time, there were those who cast their votes for Joe based on some residual sense of loyalty. That probably produced a somewhat misleadingly result. Incumbents usually are shoe-in victors in this country. For that reason alone, given the fame of the incumbent and relative anonymity of the challenger, I’d read Joe’s defeat as decisive.
Something else may well have been at play yesterday, perhaps below the surface, but no less significant. More than any other Democrat, Joe Lieberman has worn his religion and his religiosity on his sleeve. Perhaps his beliefs did not draw him to the radical fringes seen among Evangelicals, but in many substantial ways the Religious Right surely considers him as a compatriot, a fellow faith-based office holder. While Connecticut is one of those Blue States, could we (without over reading it) be seeing the first signs of a return to real Church-State Separation? Remember, Ralph Reid known best as the leader of the Christian Coalition recently lost the Republican primary in Georgia. Perhaps that was all attributable to his Jack Abramoff connection, but maybe there was more to it. Could the winds be changing?
Joe Lieberman defensively suggests that in supporting the underlying Iraq policy he has nonetheless been critical of its execution. I guess most of us missed that fine distinction. There is no doubt that Joe bought into the policy which includes of course the mantra of bringing democracy to the region. He believes in democracy and so do I. The problem is that, like the Bush people, Lieberman seems to like democracy in a abstract or when it’s working for him, but not in the absolute. What doesn’t he understand about losing an election?
The fact is that Lieberman’s continued selfish candidacy can only weaken the Democratic Party and put at risk a precious Democratic seat in the Senate. Looking at the last two years, we know that potentially includes placing another far right member on the Court or letting the administration proceed with its power grab and destructive policies absent real checks and balances. I hope Party leaders, including President Clinton, will remind him of that fact and, most importantly, support the elected nominee. In the meantime Joe, take a good look in the mirror; better still look at me squarely and say it ain’t so.