Sunday, August 13, 2006

Lieberman: Show's over. Go home!

Firstly, it turned out more or less how I figured, except that I thought Lamont would have won by a wider margin. Lieberman lost by a 52-48 vote, and that means that the Democrats are moving to coalesce around Lamont. Most of them, anyway. Prominent Democrats who endorsed and even campaigned for Joe Lieberman have been coming forth to endorse Lamont—if they're saying anything at all, that is. Senator Chris Dodd, Lieberman's fellow Connecticut Democrat in the Senate, was a backer/campaigner for Lieberman, but has now come out and said that although he's not happy about the outcome of last Tuesday's primary, he feels Democrats should endorse the candidate the Democratic Party has endorsed, and has dropped Lieberman like stale challah.

Other Democrats, while not enthusiastically standing with Lieberman, aren't cheering for Lamont, either... not yet, anyway. Notably, Senator Hillary Clinton of neighboring New York has remained quiet. Quiet, too, are Senators Joe Biden (D-Delaware) and Evan Bayh (D-Indiana,) who actually campaigned for Lieberman in Connecticut last week—not to mention former President Clinton, who has yet to comment on Mr. Lamont's candidacy.

It's interesting to see Biden, Bayh and H. Clinton, all of whom are probable 2008 presidential contenders, throwing their lot in with Lieberman so closely. I suppose they have to: those three senators, like Lieberman, all voted for and backed Bush's attack on Iraq in 2002, and don't like giving traction to the idea that voters would reject a candidate who did. Neither of these senators has anything to worry about where their respective seats are concerned, but the downfall of Lieberman would be a bad harbinger for their 2008 presidential campaigns. Dodd, it's worth noting, has also made noises about running for president in 2008, like he did in 2004, but he's a third-tier candidate, at best, and he voted against the attack on Iraq in 2002. Dodd, by supporting Lieberman in the primary and then sticking with the outcome of his party's primary, is obviously looking to grab some national attention, which is probably a good idea. If Dodd can't land a spot on the presidential ticket, which he probably won't, he'd probably got a cabinet post under the next Democratic president in mind.

Though he refused to comment on it before the primary, after three terms in the Senate, this sore loserman has decided to file to run as an independent. The primary saw 45% of Connecticut's Democrats turn out, which is remarkably high for a primary race in any state. Many more voters than usual switched registration before the deadline to do so passed three months ago, and many Republicans tried to do so after the deadline passed. On the campaign trail, one such Republican voter told Senator Lieberman as much. Recounting that anecdote, Lieberman mused, "Those are my voters," which pretty much says it all.

Many are taking this as a repudiation of the Iraq War and Bush policy. Lieberman himself (and his supporters) are talking about it as if it were a sign that rabid partisanship has gotten out of control in this county (but he said never a word about it where President Bush is concerned, for some odd reason.) The conservative media are talking about it as a rise of the "radical left" in this country. On This Week this morning, George Will said that this is evocative of the rise of the McGovernites in 1972. This is appealing to people like Will, because the McGovernites staked everything on an anti-war (Vietnam War), socially liberal platform and lost 49 states and a net of eleven Congressional seats in so doing. Republicans are eager to paint this as evidence that Democrats are turning on each other. Also on the This Week program this morning, Senator John McCain made the outrageous claim that "Russ Feingold and Joe Lieberman are liberal Democrats." That's true of Feingold, but to call those two senators similar and to call Lieberman "liberal" is something that demands clarification on Mr. McCain's part, and which Mr. Stephanopoulos was derelict in demanding.

Republicans have a great interest in painting this as a split in the Democratic Party, largely because they've got so little to run on right now. Dividing and conquering is the best strategy the Republicans have in their bag of tricks, but with the Democratic Party more unified than it's been in decades right now, they're going to go for whatever they can get. Karl Rove contacted Senator Lieberman's office right after the primary, but what happened is debated. George Stephanopoulos reported earlier this week (according to NECN—New England Cable Network—News) that a leak admitted that Rove offered to help the Lieberman campaign. Lieberman's office has publicly stated that no such offer was made, and that the Lieberman campaign wouldn't accept one even if it had been. Whatever really happened, the Republican Party is drooling over this, and is no doubt eager to keep Lieberman in the race for as long as possible, if only to exploit the fissure in Connecticut and give them a "divided Democrats" story to run on nationwide. Republican National Committee Ken Mehlman has already spoken out loud and in favor of Lieberman's reëlection, and Vice President Cheney has stated that support of Ned Lamont is akin to throwing in the towel in the War [sic] On Terror.

I don't know if Lieberman's going to remain in the race for the next eighty-some days. He might very well do so, especially if his chances continue to look good. A poll revealed that about 80% of Lieberman's Democratic supporters wanted to stand with their candidate no matter what happened in the primary. Lieberman is probably hoping to rely on Republican turnout, but it's hard to say how many Connecticut Republicans would be enthusiastic about voting for a Democrat. Some will, sure, but will it be enough? Connecticut's independents will be fought over, and I haven't seen any statistics on which way they're likely to vote, so as far as I know, this is now a two-way race, and it's pretty much up in the air. Democratic nominee Ned Lamont is one of the major candidates and independent Democrat Joe Lieberman is the other major candidate. Yes, there's a Republican running, by the name of Alan Schlesinger, but he's not expected to break double digits in the votes he's going to get. However, Connecticut Republicans never really paid much attention to their party's nomination because it's been long assumed that Lieberman was going to win and head on to a blowout in November. Now that that hasn't happened, Republicans now realize that if they had a strong candidate, this could turn into a three-way race and make it possible for a Republican to win the seat. Lately there's been some talk of the 2004 Republican candidate against Chris Dodd, a conservative businessman by the name of Jack Orchulli, replacing Schlesinger on the ticket. Orchulli would be a stronger candidate, and might really have a shot, as long as Schlesinger quietly steps down. Will he? It's hard to say. Whether he does or not won't have any truck with whether prominent Republicans come out and endorse Joe Lieberman—I'm pretty sure they won't. But if you start hearing the name Jack Orchulli a lot, then watch out.

Personally, I think some of this has to do with a repudiation of Bush's Iraq fiasco. But it has more to do with a repudiation of Bush, whom Lieberman has been too cozy with, and a symptom of the anti-incumbent fever that many Republicans are fearing will cull their herd in 2006. Lieberman's "anti-partisan" rhetoric smacks of the Gingrichian pleas of 1994, when Republicans urged everyone to put aside partisanship, work together and replace as many Democrats with Republicans in government as possible. Lieberman is a day late and a dollar short, and he's coming across as King Equivocator with his warm overtures to George W. Bush. But Lieberman has a long history of equivocation, which is why many people are starting to view him as an opportunist, and quite rightly, I'd say. During the 2000 election, when Lieberman was nominated to be Al Gore's running mate, he still ran for his Senate seat in Connecticut—just in case—even though that would mean that if he became vice president, Republican Governor Rowland would have replaced him with a Republican Senator. During the 2000 recount, Lieberman made far too many concessions to the Bush camp, causing many to wonder just whose side Lieberman was on. Bush got behind Bush's war too enthusiastically in 2002 and stayed there, soaking up national attention, even when most Democratic opportunists had long since flown the coop. President Bush has left a long trail of corpses of Democrats who have made overtures to him and were then sacrificed for the good of the Republican Party. Why Lieberman continued to play with Bush fire like that, I'll never know. Either he's looking for national attention or he's just not that smart. He may well believe in the Iraq War, but if so, could he really be beyond criticizing a Republican president while at the same time criticizing his own party so freely?

With the Democratic establishment now behind Ned Lamont (however grudgingly,) Lieberman's going to have trouble raising funds. He may get more funds than usual from Republicans, but not *that* much more. This is not a year when you'll see Republicans donating much to any of their candidates; indeed, funds for Republican candidates have already come up drier than they did last year—and last year wasn't even an election year. Like his 2004 presidential run, Joe Lieberman will likely hang on well after it's obvious he doesn't have a prayer—that is, if he indeed doesn't have a prayer. He might. We'll have a better idea in another month or so, but Lieberman's probably going to stick around, come what may. Even if he does divide the Connecticut Democrats, how much enthusiasm could he generate among Connecticut Republicans? Unless he decided to switch parties (which won't happen,) I don't think very much at all. But it's not until after Labor Day that most Americans start paying attention to politics, so we'll have to wait awhile to see whether Lieberman's really going to make a statement or whether he's just wasting his time. The Democratic Party would probably like to see Lieberman go away, because without him, it would be easier to run a campaign critical of Bush's Iraq policy, since that's hard to do when you've got a strong advocate of it in your party, interrupting unity. And that's why Joe Lieberman is George W. Bush's favorite Democrat.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Bloggers vs. Lieberman vs. the blogs

Well, today’s the big day for Joe Lieberman and Ned Lamont. Heckuva day for me to return to my blog, but that’s the way things played out. My move to Boston went well, and my month of unemployed relaxation went well, too. I’ve actually found a new job and start next Monday, which ought to pay for essentials like net access. And rent. And food. You know, that kind of stuff. Now although this is my triumphant return, I ought to point out that I’m leaving this afternoon for a few days in Maine and will be back on line maybe Thursday or Friday. After five weeks of not working, I need a vacation!

Over the past month I’ve kept up with the news and kept on top of the major stories. I’ve even gotten on line from time to time, to see how things are being reported on the web. I learned a few things about what I’d been reading on the web all this time, things I apparently missed. Did you know that bloggers have been altering the course of political thought in America, and that they’re also responsible for the current state of the Connecticut primary? Such power in the hands of a handful of net posters I was unaware of, but now I know.

Countless opinion makers (and even some news sources) cite “leftist bloggers” as the only ones who are really driving the Lamont campaign and the challenge to Lieberman. It’s easy to jumble it into a soundbite, which I guess is what editors want to see: “Leftist, anti-war bloggers,” “Radical, anti-war bloggers,” and similar, repetitive catch phrases are plastered all over not only specious media like The Washington Times and Fox News but are also repeated on more respectable outlets like The New York Times, The Washington Post, and NPR. Somewhere someone’s spreading the notion that blogs are driving the Lamont campaign, the news cycle and opinions in general. If these opinion makers were to be believed, you’d think that the innovation of the blog is actually some kind of movement, rather than a venue for opinionated people without editors to spout off without such aggravations as proofreaders, fact checkers and peer review.

The Lieberman campaign has been quick to damn “radical bloggers” as the cause of its woes. Senator Lieberman told NPR last week that he feels that the bloggers are more of a fringe element, and that the majority of Connecticut voters will come through in the end and support him. Lieberman chalked up his flagging popularity to an imagined enemy, rather than swallowing hard and accepting that maybe Ned Lamont’s challenge has been succeeding because Senator Lieberman is out of touch with his constituency. Pointing to the phantom bloggers is easier than self-reflection, and besides, the shopworn “media bias” phantom remains the tired province of the Republicans. And no matter what you might think of Senator Lieberman’s voting record, the fact is that he’s still not a Republican.

One not-so-new criticism of the media is that they’re not imaginative, and the bloggers-as-putsch-makers shows that. Ironically, the media are always looking to show new ideas and new trends, but it resists new ideas and new trends itself. Maybe it’s because those running the media are aging Baby Boomers who still view the world through the prism of the distant 1960s that they’re always so nostalgic for. So many Boomers have reminisced, “We changed the world!” while looking fondly back on their salad days, where a few campus radicals grabbed headlines at protests, swayed and sang with their fists in the air, we-shall-overcoming all the way to the Washington Mall. They can’t see beyond that model, and find themselves figuring that since blogging is a new thing, and since bloggers tend to be topical, it must be a new movement, poised to change the world—and these journalists can get in on the ground floor of reporting on it!

Liberal and leftist bloggers seem to get the most ink (or pixels) when it comes to the media reporting on them, and the press tends to be negative. Further, you’ve got bloggers like Kos who get tagged as “extreme,” “angry,” “leftist,” “liberal,” etc., when they really aren’t, but are getting assigned these labels just because they’re to the political left of Joe Lieberman—you know, like about 75% of Western civilization. Some of it is admiration, I suppose, with aging ‘60s radicals wistfully recalling love-ins and acid trips. But the condemnation also follows the same line of thinking: conservative reactionaries to ‘60s thought still think the way ‘60s radicals did. When the National Review or Sean Hannity rail against “fanatical leftist bloggers,” they’re setting the WABAC Machine for 1970 and signing on to the black-and-white vision of the world that you can only find in organizations like the John Birch Society—or the Youth International Party. What’s the difference between Jerry Rubin and G. Gordon Liddy? One of them had a government job.

These times, they have a-changed. The blog is just another way to join the public discourse, and the media are making it into something bigger than it actually is. Don’t get me wrong—I think that something that allows someone to express an opinion and make it available to the world is a huge thing (whether the world reads it or not.) But the nature of the blog is different from that of journalism. Journalism requires peer review, and established papers, no matter how stale their managing editors might get to be, still insist on some kind of review of the facts. It’s always been that way—but another state of affairs that’s always been is that people talk to each other about their opinions. This is usually in regular conversation, but the blog allows them to enhance that, and converse on line. The equation that there’s no peer review doesn’t change, which makes the blog a more specious source of information—though a rich source of opinion.

Maybe what’s driving the blogophobia that many papers have these days is the fact that blogs offer up opinions that are popular with readers. This could be threatening to them because of all the attacks that have been made on the media over the past couple of decades, accusations that mainstream media are brazenly liberal and out to persecute conservatives. Conservatives have taken the tactic of wielding this accusation and run with it, not only getting people to suspect liberal bias where it’s never been, but to accept that an organization like Fox News is a valid news source. If all the other outlets are mouthpieces of some shadowy liberal conspiracy, goes the reasoning, then what’s wrong with Fox being a conservative mouthpiece? This goes beyond trying to use a second wrong to make a right; this is redefining political discourse as not the clash of opinions, but as the clash of radicals. Jerry Rubin is still with us. He just works for Fox News these days.

Joe Lieberman ought to be ashamed of jumping on the bloggers-as-conspirators bandwagon. He’s damning them the way Richard Nixon tried to marginalize liberals in 1972 by asserting that a “silent majority” would come forth and back him for a second term. Now considering that Nixon won 49 states in that election, maybe he had a point, but there were a lot of factors also in play that led to that (like a weak McGovern campaign and a proven Republican conspiracy against the Democratic Party that went down at the Watergate Hotel that year.) Joe Lieberman might be right, and he just might have a wave of “silent maJoeritarians” come out and guarantee him a fourth term in the Senate. But Joe Lieberman is dead wrong about blogs and bloggers: we’re just disorganized writers who put our opinions out there, leaving you the responsibility for checking our facts for yourselves. But don’t take my word for it: I’m just a blogger.

More on this when I get back from Maine. Until then, Connecticut voters: get out and vote for Ned Lamont for U.S. Senate. This is the first official endorsement of any candidate by True or Better.