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Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The Press on Joe Lieberman vs. Ned Lamont

With most of the national media descending upon Connecticut like a plague, political junkies with an internet connection have a great opportunity to compare and contrast the ability of the national media to grasp the dynamics at play in the Senate Primary -- and for local voices to get a wider exposure. On that second point, few outside of Connecticut knew of Colin McEnroe before this race, but his frequent dispatches for the Courant and Salon have thrust his amazing grasp of Connecticut politics into the national limelight. Same with Paul Bass.

While other members of the Connecticut press (cough, Susan Haigh, cough, Mark Davis) have been played as fools by the Lieberman campaign, McEnroe and Bass have parlayed their historical knowledge of Connecticut into nationwide respect during the last few months of the election.

But few in the national press seem to be doing a good job of capturing the dynamics of the race. However, to give credit where credit is due, E.J. Dionne has a great column today:

Ideologically based primary challenges to important incumbents almost always signal major changes in the political winds. That's as true of Lamont's strong campaign against Lieberman as it was of D'Amato's victory, following as it did the primary defeats of two other liberal Republican senators -- Clifford Case of New Jersey in 1978 and Thomas Kuchel of California 10 years earlier -- at the hands of conservatives.

The upstarts who beat Case and Kuchel later lost the fall elections. But their cleansing of progressives from Republican ranks was part of a long conservative march that culminated in Ronald Reagan's 1980 victory and the hold that conservatives now have on the elected branches of the federal government.

The opposition to Lieberman is motivated by an effort to reverse the trend to the right. It's true that Lamont's campaign has been energized by widespread opposition to the Iraq war and the fact that Lieberman has been one of the most loyal Democratic defenders of President Bush's Middle East policies.

This primary challenge is a natural reaction to the DLC policies that have lost election after election -- while at the same time hurting the long-term prospects of the Democratic Party. Triangulation sometimes works to win an election, but it is at the expense of long-term success since it forces the conversation to the right. The Republicans realized this a generation ago, got their house in order, and now dominate the entire federal government. The DLC learned the wrong lesson, got lucky with Perot running and now tout Clinton's two (under 50%) victories as the only path to victory, even when the DLC approach has proved devasting for the Democratic Party in every election since Clinton left office.

But Lieberman's troubles are, even more, about a new aggressiveness in the Democratic Party called forth by disgust with the Bush presidency -- an energy comparable to the vigor that a loathing for liberalism brought to the Republican right in the 1970s and '80s.

Like the earlier generation of conservatives, today's Democratic activists are impatient with accommodating the powers that be. They demand that Democrats stop trying to chase a "center" that has veered ever rightward since 1980. Instead, they want to haul that center back to more progressive terrain. That's why so much of the political energy in Connecticut seems to be with Lamont.

The selfishness of DLC career politicians triangulating for person gain at the expense of the Party will be on full display this fall if Lieberman loses next week:

A Lieberman loss next week could also create distracting problems for Democrats. Lieberman has said he would run as an independent if he lost the primary. This would divert national attention from the Democrats' central goal of making this fall's elections a referendum on Bush and the Republican Congress.

Desperate selfishness. But it is clear for everyone to see, which is great news for the future of the Democratic Party.

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