It could not have happened to a more deserving guy.
Such is what I thought this past August, when I witnessed in jubilance Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut lose the Democratic Senate Primary to neophyte Ned Lamont in a barnburner contest that drew the attention of the entire nation to the tiny Nutmeg State.
Having lived in Connecticut for most of my life, I know well what kind of a representative Lieberman is. Lieberman is Mr. Big Government, a tax and spend left-liberal who loves vote buying and loathes tax cuts. One of his most important jobs is funneling taxpayer money into the coffers of big defense companies, who then munificently fund his campaign. Lieberman is also a showboating media hog and an incessant moralizer who condemns the entertainment tastes of millions of Americans. With his unpleasant croak voice and his face creased into a permanent frown, he likes to act as if he is the Senate's holy man. Too bad he's a consummate warmonger, advocating and supporting the raining down of destruction upon impoverished peoples in several Third World nations. Lieberman wants to force American taxpayers and soldiers to pay the heavy burden of hegemony and "globaloney." He also has the reputation in Connecticut of being "Finger-in-the-wind Joe," for his lack of principle and honesty. Lieberman even had the chutzpah to run for re-election to the Senate in 2000 while simultaneously being Al Gore's running mate. I guess the thought of losing all political power is just too traumatizing for the poor senator. That time, however, "Joementum" Joe Lieberman read the shifting winds too late to save himself from defeat by the feisty progressive grassroots. Needless to say, I had been experiencing sweet schadenfreude in the aftermath.
Of course, just like during the 2000 Florida recounts and the 2004 New Hampshire primary where he claimed third place when he actually attained fifth, Lieberman decided to play the sore loser. After his own Connecticut Democrats decided to jettison him, Lieberman resolved to make an independent bid to retain his seat.
With this internecine struggle then raging between Lieberman and Lamont, one would suppose the Republican Party, faced with the prospects of losing its Senate majority, would have been attempting to exploit the situation for their candidate the way they did in Connecticut in 1970, when Republican Lowell Weicker grabbed Democrat Thomas Dodd's seat after a similar scenario unfolded.
However the Republican candidate, Alan Schlesinger, received no support. According to the Connecticut Republican Party his race was "not a priority." President Bush, who notoriously kissed Lieberman at the 2005 State of the Union address, said he refused to make an endorsement in the race. It's certainly one thing not to want to spend money on a race, but to not even endorse a candidate of your own party suggests a problem.
Some Republicans had even tried to force Schlesinger out of the contest, claiming he was unqualified to run because he has in the past had a little problem with gambling money away at casinos, using a pseudonym to do so. But it's hard to square that claim with the Party's support in the past for Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) and his little problem with ethics, former Rep. Mark Foley (R-Florida) and his little problem with under-aged boys, or President Bush and his past problems with alcohol and other drugs. Besides, if gambling is Schlesinger's only problem, I think he would fit in nicely in Congress.
Clearly, though, Republican candidates with troubled pasts are nothing new. What is new is that what had appeared ostensibly to be a grievance with Schlesinger was actually a tacit endorsement of Lieberman. In fact in some cases it had been an open endorsement of Joe Lieberman. Just listen to the now unemployed Rep. Nancy Johnson (R-Connecticut) talk on WNPR this summer: "I think the news that has come out about Mr. Schlesinger is extremely disappointing… I also think . . . Joe Lieberman has been good for Connecticut." Could a Democrat have said it better? She was quick to deny that that amounted to an endorsement of Lieberman. But if one goes to her website, one will see she is proud to be pictured standing next to both Joe Lieberman and the indefatigable Bill Clinton. Joining Ms. Johnson is neoconservative kingpin William Kristol, who gushed, "Is it too fanciful to speculate about a 2008 GOP ticket of McCain-Lieberman, or Giuliani-Lieberman…" In case you doubt who Kristol was rooting for, the editor of the Weekly Standard cut the Lieberman campaign a generous check for five hundred dollars. Kristol isn't the only "conservative" who had been funneling money into Lieberman's coffers either. According to the online magazine Insight, White House advisor Karl Rove had been able to obtain literally millions of dollars for Lieberman from Republican donors nationwide. Indeed, with "enemies" like these, who needs friends?
In fact, Rove had engineered a plan of giving secret support to Lieberman. Internal Republican polls this summer showed that the party would lose as many as thirty to forty seats in the House of Representatives and possibly enough seats in the Senate to lose control there as well, or have a fifty-fifty split, come November. The calculus of Mr. Rove was that Lieberman would back the president on the issue of the Iraq War, Afghanistan War, possible Iran War and so-called War on Terror and provide the vote necessary to pass bills favored by the administration pertaining to those efforts. Forget Lieberman's views on the other issues, views what would earn the opprobrium of many conservative Republicans. The war is the issue that really matters to the president, in his monomaniacal drive to pursue his foreign policies. And liberal Lieberman matters much more to the president and his coterie than any Republican victory in Connecticut ever could. Thus, the Republican Party that has let conservatives down several times in recent years has done so again by allying themselves with a left-liberal Democrat based on the narrow conceptions of a few issues and political expediency. But, if Lieberman is now considered a fit by the Republican leadership, then where does that leave true conservatives?
It leaves them in the lurch. To quote the old conservative warhorse Phyllis Schlafly, writing in The American Conservative, "Bush ran as a conservative, but he has been steadily (some might say stealthily) trying to remold the conservative movement and the Republican Party into the Bush Party." Lieberman is a fitting symbol of what the Bush Republican Party has morphed into as it swerves leftward towards increased statism. Under Bush the Republican Party has embraced big government in all areas, nation building projects, a creeping authoritarianism and New England Democrats.
Lieberman ended up winning re-election again as an independent. He will caucus with the Democrats. In Connecticut it was Republicans that provided the margin of victory for Lieberman, exit polls revealed. That was the only thing Karl Rove got right this year.
Meanwhile the Democrats were able to wrest control of both houses of Congress from the Republicans for the first time in a dozen years. The Iraq War played heavily in the minds of voters this year (the author included). The irony is that Lieberman, the de facto Republican candidate in the race, ended up surviving the slaughter that felled so many others. And the reason was that he couldn't have asked for a more measly opposition or more supportive president. That has long given pause to progressives; it should also give pause to conservatives. It should give them something to contemplate, especially now that the president has left them a political party on the rocks, a host of unresolved political problems…and Joe Lieberman.
November 15, 2006