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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Wednesday, 9 August 2006
Joe's Bad Day
Topic: Election Notes
Joe's Bad Day
Joe's bad day would be Wednesday, August 9, when the sun rose and three-term Senator Joseph Lieberman faced a new world - the night before he had lost the Connecticut party primary to a virtual unknown. The state's Democrats had said they'd rather not have him represent them. He lost by ten thousand votes, or four percentage points. The party that six years earlier had chosen him to be their vice presidential candidate showed him the door, or the Connecticut branch of the party did. Thanks, it's been a fun eighteen years - now go home.

He was not happy. He will run in the November election as an independent, or as he puts it, in a term he made up, a "petitioning Democrat," although no one quite knows what that means. The Democrats have moved on. He cannot run as one. The fellow who won, Ned Lamont, is now endorsed by the party, and all the big guns are standing behind him. The Connecticut folks made their choice, and the party recognizes that - Lamont gets the endorsements, the support, and the party money to run in the November election.

Lieberman was stunned - and defiant and pouting and whiny. It's a bit sad. One thinks of Willie Loman in the Arthur Miller play.

Well, he might win in November and return for another six years as Connecticut's senior senator. He just won't return as a Democrat, even if he calls himself one. He'll be something else - the Democrat the party didn't want. If so, that will be very curious.

The news was filled with what it all means - everyone had an opinion. And it overwhelmed stories like this -
The Bush administration has drafted amendments to a war crimes law that would eliminate the risk of prosecution for political appointees, CIA officers and former military personnel for humiliating or degrading war prisoners, according to US officials and a copy of the amendments.

… "People have gotten worried, thinking that it's quite likely they might be under a microscope," said a US official. Foreigners are using accusations of unlawful US behavior as a way to rein in American power, the official said, and the amendments are partly meant to fend this off.
Can you say Milosevic?

Of course the president takes an oath to defend and uphold the constitution, and to "faithfully execute" the laws. When the Republican shoved this war crimes law through in 1996 they must have been kidding, saying since we ratified all the Geneva Conventions there would be no problem with federal prosecution of anyone violating them, as any ratified treaty has the force of federal law and this would show we're the good guys. The idea seemed to be that our courts could handle this, not some judge in court in the Hague who doesn't even speak English and probably has it out for America. We'd take care of it here. And now we won't.

This all flows from the recent Hamdan ruling (here) - "Once Common Article 3 applies to the conflict with al Qaeda, the legal framework within which we analyze the various interrogation and torture allegations changes dramatically, as does the ... potential liability of various US officials under the War Crimes Act."

Oops. It's time to change the act, and do it before November, when the opposition party could hold one or both houses of congress. There is an urgent need to redefine the meaning of "war crimes."

It's not, admittedly, a big news story. It's not about sad Joe. This seems a bit over the top - "Is there a pit of slime so filthy these moral cretins won't drag us through it? A cup of national humiliation so bitter they won't make us drain it to the dregs? Apparently not."

Well, there are things we now do we never did before, or never made policy. The law needs to catch up with how we treat people now.

On Joe's bad day the war in Lebanon of course had to grab some headlines. The Israeli cabinet approved a massive invasion of southern Lebanon and the cease-fire resolution that we and the French were pushing at the UN fell apart, over the issue when and if the Israelis ever leave Lebanon. Is it the first thing that must be done, or as we insist, the very last thing? The French will float their own resolution. They've had it, and they're the ones who will lead the peacekeeping force if one is ever sent in. We stand with Israel - not one Israeli soldier leaves until Hezbollah is no more and things are peaceful. The president, flanked by the secretary of state, did call for "no escalation, please" - and told everyone that see, we can criticize Israel, but most read that as a sop to the rising anger in the Arab world, and the puzzlement worldwide that we seem to think more fighting - for weeks, for a month, for many months - is a fine idea.

And more and more you see things like this posted at Conservative Values for America -
Any and all who are enemies of the great nation of Israel should be destroyed by whatever means necessary.

I am sure that you have been following the turmoil in the Middle East, and I am sure that you have been rooting for Israel, as God would have you to do. Remember, the Jews were the prototype Christians, and as such they deserve our support. Israel is the nation of God, and He views it in his Holy Wisdom as "Little America". The situation with Israel and Lebanon is very similar to our situation with the brown-skinned peoples of the word.

Israel has the right to defend herself, even if that means incinerating children with phosphorus bombs.

Israel is the only nation on Earth, besides the United States, that has the God given authority to kill anyone that it sees fit. Do not stand in the way of Israel. The Chosen People of God will have no qualms about sending someone to your happy little home to kill you. Israel must defend itself, using any means necessary. There are no innocent people, and no people who are not expendable, when the safety of Israel's northern border outposts is at stake.
You hear a milder version of this sort of thing from Falwell and Pat Robertson - who have the president's ear. Pat Robertson was in Israel on Joe's bad day, cheering the Israelis on.

But it was Joe's day, and he was all over saying he was mad and running as an independent. In his concession speech (video here) and the morning-after Today show chat (video here), he was saying - "I am committed to this campaign, to a different kind of politics, to bringing the Democratic Party back from Ned Lamont, Maxine Waters to the mainstream, and for doing something for the people of Connecticut. That's what this is all about: which one of us, Lamont or me, can do more for the future of our people here in Connecticut. And on that basis, I'm going forward with confidence, purpose and some real optimism."

The idea, of course, is that only a few lefty cranks oppose the war or think we should get out somehow or other. It's going great and Bush was and is right about most everything. He doesn't read the polls, or doesn't believe they are accurate. He has some secret knowledge of "the mainstream" the pollsters missed. It's a bit delusional.

The most recent New York Times/CBS shows this -

- 62 percent disapprove of President Bush's handling of the war, while only 32 percent approve
- 63 percent think the war with Iraq was not "worth the loss of American life and other costs" while only 30 percent think it was
- 57 percent think things are going very or somewhat badly for U.S. "efforts to bring stability and order to Iraq" while only 41 percent think things are going very or somewhat well
- 53 percent think "Iraq will probably never become a stable democracy" while only 4 percent think it will occur in the "next year or two"
- 56 percent think the U.S. should "set a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq," compared to 40 percent who oppose such a timetable
- 72 percent think the Iraq war has made the United States' image in the world worse, 69 percent think it has hampered U.S. diplomatic efforts, and 41 percent think continued U.S. presence in Iraq makes the region less stable; only 25 percent think it makes the region more stable

That's not the mainstream? Right.

So what are people specifically saying about Joe?

The attorney and best-selling author Glenn Greenwald says this -
Most of the ramifications of Joe Lieberman's extraordinary defeat will require some time to discern, but one thing is already painfully clear. With his behavior Tuesday night, Lieberman has turned himself into the most vivid symbol of the insular, arrogant, corrupt and power-desperate Washington establishment, the sheer cravenness and corruption of which are what catalyzed the campaign against him in the first place.

Those who compose that entrenched Beltway power establishment - the endlessly reelected political officials, the hordes of consultants and lobbyists who feed off and control them, and the pampered, self-loving "journalists" who enable it all - are characterized by a single-minded quest to perpetuate their own power, flavored by a thinly masked contempt for the masses on whose behalf this system ostensibly plods along. Lieberman's conduct last night was a perfect textbook for all of those afflictions.

Like the establishment mavens who rushed to defend him, Lieberman exposed himself as a man driven by a single, overarching motivation - a desperate desire to cling to his source of power, his Senate seat, not because of any political ideals he wants to pursue but solely because of the personal satisfaction, attention and benefits it provides him. Embodying one of the defining attributes of the permanent Beltway class, Lieberman plainly craves - has become addicted to - the petty trappings of his role in the grand Beltway court. The only cause that seems to stir Joe Lieberman to anger, aggression and confrontation is the glorious struggle for Joe Lieberman to cling to his Senate seat.

The man whose (largely Republican) media supporters glorified him as one of the few "men of principle" left in Washington has revealed himself to be bereft of all principles save one - the "principle" that Joe Lieberman's Senate seat belongs to him personally and that no mere voters, those silly, unenlightened masses, have the right to take that away from him. In the face of this rare testament to true democracy - the decisive rejection of Lieberman by Connecticut voters in defiance of virtually the entire national political establishment - Lieberman had nothing but scorn, contempt and defiance for their decision.

He thus intoned: "I am disappointed not just because I lost, but because the old politics of partisan polarization won today. For the sake of our state, our country and my party, I cannot and will not let that result stand." This man of principle "will not let that result stand" - "that result" being the considered decision of the voters whom he has claimed to represent for the last 18 years.

A more selfish and craven act is difficult to imagine. Lieberman single-handedly will impose endless grief and conflict on his Democratic colleagues who loyally rallied to support him. He will drain attention and resources away from his party's already difficult struggle to restore balance and oversight to our federal government, and to end one-party rule in November. He will sow still more intense divisions and raging hostilities among those who oppose the Bush administration. And he will subject his state to three more months of electoral warfare while he forces it to have what is sure to be an increasingly bitter and nasty election - an election that it just had.

And this "man of principle," this elevated gentleman who is too pure and righteous for Washington, will do all of that for one reason and one reason only - because he is too weak and selfish to give up his Senate seat and accept the decision of Connecticut voters that they want a different senator representing their interests in Washington. The fallout from the well-deserved and desperately needed blow dealt to the national political establishment will be unclear for some time to come, but one thing that is not unclear is Joe Lieberman's character. He has revealed it for all it to see.
So suck it up and be a man? Stop whining. You lost. That seems to be the idea.

Sidney Blumenthal is even less kind, and provides historical context -
Joe Lieberman's fall from grace appears straightforward. In Connecticut, where George W. Bush and his war are intensely disliked, Lieberman stationed himself as the president's defender. But Lieberman's precipitous descent from nomination as vice president to rejection by his home state partisans is also something of a mystery.

Lieberman was once the most attractive and promising Democrat in his state, his grasp of political realities subtle and sinuous. But he became scornful of disagreement, parading himself as a moral paragon to whom voters should be privileged to pay deference. The elevation of his sanctimony was accompanied by the loss of his political sense.
And you have to love the history (emphases added) -
When Lieberman ran his first primary campaign, for the state Senate, in 1970, against an entrenched Democratic machine politician, he was an insurgent reformer, relying on an army of young idealistic volunteers. (One of them was Yale law student Bill Clinton.) Lieberman was a star liberal on the Yale campus, editor of the Yale Daily News, a civil rights worker in the South, an activist against the Vietnam War, and yet adept at getting out the vote. His senior honors thesis was a study of the Democratic state boss, John Bailey, who forged competing ethnic groups into a winning coalition. The young Lieberman's victory seemed to herald a new day in Connecticut.

For decades, indeed for two centuries, Connecticut has been a caldron of peculiarly American culture wars. In the election of 1800, the president of Yale, speaking for the reigning puritan establishment, denounced the Democratic presidential candidate, Thomas Jefferson, as "immoral." Starting in the 1870s, Connecticut was straitjacketed by laws forbidding birth control. In 1926, Katharine Houghton Hepburn, the wife of a liberal Hartford doctor, formed the Connecticut Birth Control League to challenge the restriction. (Their daughter, actor Katharine Hepburn, continued their activism as the league grew into Planned Parenthood.)

In 1950, the state treasurer of Planned Parenthood, a liberal-minded Republican banker tainted by his association, was narrowly defeated in a race for the US Senate. His name was Prescott Bush, father of George H.W. and grandfather of George W., and he won election two years later.

It was not until 1965 that the US Supreme Court ruled that Connecticut's birth control law was unconstitutional, violating the right to privacy, a decision that laid the groundwork for the legalization of abortion in 1973 and ignited new culture wars.

In 1988, conservatives in the state, led by right-wing writer William F. Buckley Jr., in their loathing for liberal Republican Sen. Lowell Weicker Jr., rallied behind his Democratic opponent, Joe Lieberman, who won a bare margin on the basis of their votes. Lieberman was liberal on abortion, but that didn't matter to the right, which was determined to purge the Republican Party.
So he's a creation of William F. Buckley? He was always the willing tool of the conservatives? Fascinating.

And then there's the sanctimonious bullshit -
Over time, Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew, became more observant and culturally conservative. His speech denouncing President Clinton as "immoral" during the impeachment spectacle was as unsurprising as it was unctuous. His links to neoconservatives and the religious right proliferated. He became close to Dick and Lynne Cheney and helped found a group with Lynne to criticize liberal professors. Last year, at the 50th anniversary dinner of Buckley's National Review, the leading conservative magazine, Lieberman sat at the head table.
Ah, he is an odd duck. Just where does he fit?

There's much more detail, but this conclusion -
Believing that he had turned into a sacrosanct institution beyond reproach, the acolyte of Democratic leader Bailey neglected political organization. Disdainful of New England Democrats for daring to criticize the Southern conservative president, Lieberman was stunned by the emergence of an intra-party opponent, Ned Lamont, a liberal patrician banker.

Lieberman finished his campaign on a desperate note, proclaiming his purity of heart as a Democrat and assailing Bush on Iraq blunders, even as he announced in losing that he would not abide by his party's verdict and instead run as an independent. The man of faith is now running on bad faith. Self-righteousness fostered self-delusion, leading to self-destruction. Lieberman's fall is a cautionary tale not limited to Connecticut.
So he came to think his shit don't stink. That seems to be an occupational hazard with politicians.

Over at "Same Facts" UCLA professor (Public Policy) Mark Kleiman is just blunt -
I despise Lieberman, and have despised him ever since he sold out Al Gore in the 2000 VP debate. He sat there making himself look like a good guy and thereby missed the opportunity to portray Dick Cheney for the extreme right-winger he has always been. Add to that that Lieberman is the sort of pompous, self-righteous moralizer who give all the other pompous, self-righteous moralizers a bad name, and that he has pretty much played on Team Bush for the last four years. (Remember Lieberman's stalwart defense of John Kerry against the Swiftboaters? That's funny. Neither do I.)

On the other hand, he would vote as a Democrat to organize the Senate, and that's the key vote. Spending money and energy on an intra-party squabble when the major problem is how to count to 51 seemed to me like a tactical mistake.

But now that he's lost the primary, he has a choice between making his critics look stupid and his friends look smart by backing out gracefully and doing the reverse by staying in. Right now, it looks as if he's going to embarrass his friends and delight his critics. I'm still hoping that all the national Democrats - including, in an astonishing act of generosity, Bill Clinton - who campaigned for Lieberman during the primary will now call in their chits and tell Lieberman that if he runs as an independent he's someone they used to know.
This man is not exactly well liked, is he?

See also Josh Marshall in Time Magazine here -
The Lieberman camp says Joe stuck to his guns on Iraq notwithstanding the political perils or the unpopularity of the position in his party. But that doesn't quite cut it. True, he had to know he wasn't winning any points with the broad mass of Democrats around the country. And his embitterment against his party for his ignominious defeat in the 2004 presidential primaries probably made him more willing to court that displeasure. But I don't think Lieberman really understood the peril he was courting back home. Because if he had, he would have been more prepared for it. And he wasn't.

Most politicians keep close tabs on what's happening back home and work assiduously to keep lines of communications open with the political players in their states or districts. They may get into trouble for any number of reasons. But if they're good at what they do, they don't get caught off guard. And no one was more caught unawares by what happened in the last two months than Joe Lieberman.

Many pundits claim that Lieberman's defeat is a replay of the way Democrats tore themselves apart over Vietnam. It's an appealing thought for Republicans. And it has got nice drama. But those pundits are either being disingenuous or are caught in a time warp. Democrats are actually fairly united on the Iraq War in their opposition to it - which is actually where most Americans are right now. And though many senators are not as full-throated in their opposition as the base of the party, you don't see any successful challenges being made against other senators who aren't ready to bring the troops home.

With Lieberman, there's something different. It's not just that he wouldn't wash his hands of the Iraq War. Lots of Democrats won't. It's more than that. He's seemed almost militantly indifferent to the disaster Iraq has become. And his passion about the war seemed reserved exclusively for those who questioned it rather than those who had so clearly botched the enterprise. His continual embrace of President Bush - both literal and figurative - was an insult to Democrats, the great majority of whom believe Bush has governed as one of the most destructive Presidents in modern American history. It's almost as though Lieberman has gone out of his way to provoke and offend Democrats on every point possible, often, seemingly, purely for the reason of provoking. Is it any wonder the guy got whacked in a party primary?
Yep, when someone goes around saying to his friends "I'm right and you're all wrong, and stupid too" it does get on their nerves. When he says "let me continue to represent you" it's quite natural to say no thanks. Of course he doesn't "get it" - how could these people continue to be so stupid? And he was "connected" after all.

Being connected may have been the problem -
Lieberman got in trouble because he let himself live in the bubble of D.C. conventional wisdom and A-list punditry. He flattered them; and they loved him back. And as part of that club he was part of the delusion and denial that has sustained our enterprise in Iraq for the last three years. In the weeks leading up to Tuesday's primary, A-List D.C. pundits were writing columns portraying Lieberman's possible defeat as some sort of cataclysmic event that might foreshadow a dark new phase in American politics - as though voters choosing new representation were on a par with abolishing the constitution or condoning political violence. But those breathless plaints only showed how disconnected they are from what's happening in the country at large. They mirrored his disconnection from the politics of the moment.

The polls tell us the President's approval rating seldom gets out of the 30s. Congress is unpopular. Incumbents are unpopular. Voters prefer Democrats over Republicans by a margin of about 15%. When a once-popular, three-term senator gets bounced in a primary battle with a political unknown, it's a very big deal. Those numbers all add up to a political upheaval this November. The folks in D.C. see the numbers. But they haven't gotten their heads around what they mean. Joe was out of touch. And Washington D.C. is too.

They didn't see the Joe train wreck coming and they're not ready for what's coming next either.
Who is ready?

This wasn't the biggest or most important story of the day, but it had its moments. There's something in the air. All politicians are on notice.

Posted by Alan at 21:56 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 10 August 2006 06:50 PDT home

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