On Lieberman

I’m coming to the subject of Lieberman’s loss in Tuesday’s primary quite late, largely because I am so deeply conflicted on the subject. On the one hand, Lieberman is generally closer to me on many subjects, especially social issues, than most Democrats are. There was a time when I thought he was a very useful force in the party. But my respect for him has gradually eroded over the last few years. The beginning of the “end of the affair” came when I went to a small meeting of New Hampshire activists in 2003, when his campaign was just getting going. I was amazed at how poorly thought-through his campaign was, that he genuinely lacked an issue that defined what he wanted to do as a Democrat–as opposed to issues that marked him off from the rest of the party. I sensed complacency, as if his place on the 2000 ticket made him the presumptive nominee. Clinton, of course, had a number of issues that defined him as a “New Democrat,” but these were accompanied by even more issues that were real, core Democratic issues. Lieberman, I thought, was caught in what we might call a hyper-New Democratic pathology.

In a very perceptive discussion of Lieberman over in the very meaty Balkinization blog, Mark Graber gets to the core of the problem. Lieberman’s appeal was supposed to be that he represented a force against political polarization, but as Mark notes, Joe was singularly ineffective at actually constructing anything like a durable moderate coalition in the Senate. In the absence of such a coalition, the only alternative strategy for moderation was obstructionism–organizing Democrats to stop the Republicans dead in their tracks, to throw sand in their machine’s gears, to keep them from pushing American politics any further to the right. That is, Lieberman needed to be MORE of a partisan in order to keep American politics from being less polarized. As Mark notes, Lieberman’s moderate instincts kept him from doing this. And this is a genuine, unforgivable failing, because his well-earned reputation would have legitimated such an obstructionism-for-moderation’s-sake strategy.

So, where do we go from here? I despise Lamont with every shred of my being–he represents everything I find distasteful in my own party, and he defines the term lightweight. On the other hand, I am a partisan, in both senses of the word: I believe that parties should mediate access to the general election ballot, and I am a Democrat. So I find the idea of someone running for office as an independent after having lost the primary to be genuinely a violation of how the game is supposed to be played. Had the primary been a typically low-turnout affair, I might have found Lieberman’s argument that we shouldn’t let a small, unrepresentative group of wingnuts determine who the next Senator should be plausible. But the primary turnout was remarkably high, possibly unprecedented. And Lieberman himself left almost two million dollars on the table, money that, given the narrow result, could have made the difference. Is there any doubt that Joe failed to spend this money (on a turnout effort that his campaign admitted it dropped at the last minute) because he was hoarding cash for an independent run?

I’d be interested in suggestions from anyone else who is generally in my position as to what the right thing to do is under these circumstances. I’ll blog again in a few days, pulling together our readers’ feedback.

Author: Steven M. Teles

Steven Teles is a Visiting Fellow at the Yale Center for the Study of American Politics. He is the author of Whose Welfare? AFDC and Elite Politics (University Press of Kansas), and co-editor of Ethnicity, Social Mobility and Public Policy (Cambridge). He is currently completing a book on the evolution of the conservative legal movement, co-editing a book on conservatism and American Political Development, and beginning a project on integrating political analysis into policy analysis. He has also written journal articles and book chapters on international free market think tanks, normative issues in policy analysis, pensions and affirmative action policy in Britain, US-China policy and federalism. He has taught at Brandeis, Boston University, Holy Cross, and Hamilton colleges, and been a research fellow at Harvard, Princeton and the University of London.

37 thoughts on “On Lieberman”

  1. Josh Marshall is in the same position as you, and he knows what to do:
    "Readers of this site know I've always had a soft spot for Lieberman. I was ambivalent about the primary race, didn't have a horse in it, I think I said. And it only became a simple matter for me after Lamont won. He's the Democratic candidate. End of story. Not because I felt differently about Lieberman necessarily. But I think all Democrats, all progressives, liberals, whatever, should support the Democratic candidate. And that's Ned Lamont. That and tell Lieberman to get out of the race.
    But now Lieberman is not only running as the de facto Republican in the race, he's running as the worst sort of Republican, going on the trail claiming that any serious questioning of our policy in Iraq is a victory for the terrorists, even pulling in yesterday's terror plot take-down into his angle against Lamont. With Lamont, those guys might have blown up the plane. Leaving Iraq is a win for the terrorists. A Lamont win is a win for the terrorists. That was after Wednesday when Joe pledged to save the Democratic party from the extremists he seems to think make up the entire Democratic party. Except for Joe.
    So questioning the president's policy on Iraq is a win for the terrorists. The Democratic party is outside the mainstream of American politics. I can go to Republicans for that, right?
    So it's not just about the independent candidacy any more. It's about him. Enough. Just leave."

  2. Steven, I'm genuinely curious about your statement:
    "I despise Lamont with every shred of my being–he represents everything I find distasteful in my own party, and he defines the term lightweight."
    Could you elaborate? Why the vehemence?

  3. Good Lord. I'd like some explanation for that statement, as well. Maybe a list of what you find distasteful about Lamont and/or the Democratic party? It can't be his personal wealth, since Senators from across the political spectrum have used their money to enter politics. And it can't be his political views, which would make him a moderate in the party. And I certainly hope it's not his stance on the Iraq War.
    As for "lightweight" — not every first time Senator can have the immediate impact of Hillary Clinton. That's the trade-off for new blood and new ideas.
    Or do you just find Lamont generally icky, like how many Democrats found Al Gore icky?

  4. I have to say, that seems tremendously unfair to Lamont. He's obviously a political lightweight, but he's not the first successful businessman to run for the Senate with little or no political experience. Certainly no serious Connecticut dem would consider staging a primary challenge against Lieberman.

  5. I despise Lamont with every shred of my being–he represents everything I find distasteful in my own party, and he defines the term lightweight.
    Damn… what could you even know about Lamont that would justify that kind of reaction? I don't see how he's had the opportunity yet to earn despising him with every shred of your being.
    I sure am glad that there's not much I find "distasteful" about my party. Exasperating, sometimes, to be sure, but while I sometimes throw up my hands, I never turn up my nose.

  6. You agree with Lieberman on social issues? Like what, videogame censorship and grandstanding statements about "protecting the children"?
    As for Lamont — he's not that novice a politician. It's not like he hasn't held any office.

  7. You agree with Lieberman on social issues? Like what, videogame censorship and grandstanding statements about "protecting the children"?
    As for Lamont — he's not that novice a politician. It's not like he hasn't held any office.
    Oh, for the record — Lieberman lost my vote back in 2000, when he opened his mouth about faith and it's necessity for good citizenship. I don't care if he walked it back — I don't doubt that's what he believes.

  8. The end of my "affair" with the Senator came much earlier, in 2000 to be exact, when, although nominated for the second spot on the Democatic ticket, he refused to take his name off the ballot for re-election as a senator from Connecticut. Talk about hedging your bets. It certainly spoke of something less than total commitment to the cause, as did his more recent failure to spend that last 2 mil, or his announcement prior to the vote , that if he lost, he would run as an independent. Here is a man desperate to be…wanted!

  9. I seriously doubt you're going to find many blog readers around these parts who share your opinion of Lamont. Heck, I think Lieberman has now officially gone off the deep end and is giving Republicans great quotes to use once again to portray Democrats as soft on terror because we don't like Iraq, but I don't despise him with every shred of my being. I'm not even sure Bush & co. get that honor.

  10. Seriously, though. "Despise him with every shred of your being"? Hyperbolic much?
    I frequent this blog because it's generally NOT hyperbolic.
    Did Lamont kill your parents? Beat you up in high school? Drive you out of business?
    The guy does volunteer teaching in poor school districts, for Pete's sake — unless he's got a hobby of screaming racial epithets or killing babies, that should buy him out of "despise him with every shred of my being".
    What is it about a simple primary loss that's bringing out the crazy in people?

  11. Lieberman lost me early on for two reasons rarely mentioned. One is the ostentatious reliegiosity mentioned by Morat20 — but out of necessity I sometimes swallow similar attitudes. The second is his enthusiastic support for capital punishment. I also swallow that one too on occasion for similar reasons. But both in one package, no sale, no matter how bad the alternative.

  12. Wow, is all I can say. You need to justify your position on Lamont because it seems totally off the deep end.

  13. Just to be contrarian, I can't find a lot of love for Lamont, either. "Despise" is awfully strong, and given what Joe L. represents to me (the revenge of FASB, maybe?) I definitely prefer almost anyone else. That said, what has Lamont got to recommend him?
    FD: I am not a Democrat, but I have voted a straight (D) ticket since FL2K.

  14. ""I despise Lamont with every shred of my being–he represents everything I find distasteful in my own party, and he defines the term lightweight.""
    I don't know you, but that statement means to me that your are the lightweight. As a thinker certainly. This is a ridiculous statement. Same facts indeed.
    Mark, this is beneath your blog standards.

  15. Whether you despise Lamont or not is your business, but what the hell does it have to do with to voting? If the US spent less time focusing on the supposed inner life of candidates, and more time focusing on their policies, you might not have a gang of religiose faux-pious lightweights, whose alleged personal piety seems not to translate well into any limits on their personal conduct, in charge of your government.

  16. "suggestions … as to what the right thing to do is under these circumstances"? Huh?
    It's pretty clear I'm not anywhere near your position–I'm way closer to despising the Pathetic candidate in this race.
    Bottom line: If you vote in CT, vote for the Democrat. If you're not in CT, you don't have to do anything.

  17. Ok, the "despise" comment was over the top, but frankly it's completely in the same ballpark as comments that Mark has made about the Bushies (which I typically agreed with). The ONLY difference is that my barb was aimed left, not right. So please ratchet down the sanctimony. I'm probably going to end up voting Lamont (or, rather, voting the straight ticket, as I always do): the excerpt from Marshall was persuasive. Being in a party means that, when your side of the party loses, you accept it and support the candidate. Period. So that's the end of that, I suppose.

  18. Ok, the "despise" comment was over the top, but frankly it's completely in the same ballpark as comments that Mark has made about the Bushies (which I typically agreed with). The ONLY difference is that my barb was aimed left, not right.
    No, it's not. The Bush crew have demonstrated incompetence verging on malice; Lamont has demonstrated only that he can run an effective primary campaign. Maybe you could start by pointing out specific things on which you disagree with Lamont, or ways in which he ran his campaign that you think make him worthy of being despised.

  19. "[H]e represents everything I find distasteful in my own party, and he defines the term lightweight."
    And what, pray, do you include under the rubric of "everything"? Without specification, this is not only an attack on Lamont, but on those Democrats who exercised their democratic rights to support & work for Lamont. One suspects you find that vibrant exercise of citizen activism against an entrenched incumbent "distasteful," but since you haven't provided any examples, this is just speculation. And a Lieberman supporter accusing others of sanctimony? To quote the incisive social critic Bugs Bunny, "It is to laugh." The only "sanctimony" in this post & the comments is your own.

  20. "[H]e represents everything I find distasteful in my own party…"
    Lamont's platform, as I understand it, is a) a rational exit strategy for Iraq; b) a real as opposed to rhetorical response to the problem of terrorism; c) fiscal sanity; d) a decent national health insurance program.
    For me, this program has a rather tasteful, understated elegance – but I'm a New England democrat.

  21. "Ok, the 'despise' comment was over the top, but frankly it's completely in the same ballpark as comments that Mark has made about the Bushies (which I typically agreed with). The ONLY difference is that my barb was aimed left, not right. So please ratchet down the sanctimony."
    If I were simple-minded, I would come to the conclusion that you're equating Lamont with Bush based on the above.
    What on earth do you find specifically distasteful abou Lamont, especially based on Pudentilla's description of his platform?

  22. Steven,
    Unless you live in Connecticut, I think the solution is pretty simple:
    Give Lamont the same base level of support you give every other Democratic candidate for the Senate. Then pick some race somewhere–probably a local congressional race–where you feel a strong level of commitment, and apply your efforts there.
    In fact, even if you +do+ live in Connecticut, that's a good solution. There are three House races there, all potential wins for the Democratic Party, all damaged by Lieberman's unconscionable behavior. Pick one and go to work.

  23. "The ONLY difference is that my barb was aimed left, not right"
    An additional difference, though you obviously find it trivial, is that Mark is pretty clear about his issues with Bush, whereas nobody has any idea at all what your beef with Lamont is.
    Is this schoolyard level of debate, this equivalent of "I'm rubber and you're glue," really the new standard around here?
    While you're at it, why not accuse Lamont of ginning bogus evidence for a war, sacrificing national security for cheap political points, and upending the separation of powers? After all, people say the same about Bush. It's only fair.

  24. Were Ned Lamont not from the Northeast and Yankee to the core, he'd be the type of guy that would make a great national candidate. He's built a diverse and very successful life for himself, and he's authentic and self effacing.
    And he is clearly talented in the political arena – he chose and followed the right advisors, and stuck to his message. If only Lieberman, Gore, Kerry, and others knew how to do that.

  25. I'll contribute my own support for the Anvil Chrosu here.
    Please support your comments about Lamont. Do you ordinarily despise someone on sight without personal knowledge? Perhaps you've taken politics-as-identity a little too tribally.
    At last look, most of us belong to Tribe Democrat. You appear to belong to a somewhat more intimate grouping.
    "Ratchet down the sanctimony" indeed………as you force-feed another helping of that same vittle down our throats.

  26. "I despise Lamont with every shred of my being–he represents everything I find distasteful in my own party"
    The thing most interesting to me about the L-L primary in Conn. was the narrative, which asserted that Lamont was the reincarnation of 60's Left radicalism. I am not sure what the 60's Left was supposed, in this narrative, to represent, other than responsibility for alienating a large section of the white working and middle class from the Democratic Party and delivering power to the Republicans.
    There's no doubt that Nixon and, later, Reagan, and later still, Gingrich, did lead a significant chunk of white working class and middle class voters away from the Democratics and away from liberalism. But, all that is just a good-bye.
    The question of the day is whether George W. Bush is driving a significant chunk of the electorate back to the Democrats, and whether the Democrats will accept the gift.
    The main trick in all politics is not winning for one Party or the other, but to maintain a governing coalition of the sane against the insane. For a very long time, in American politics that coalition of the sane existed in bipartisanship between the Parties. Thus was contained the worst impulses of the Right and the most impractical aspirations of the Left. With the election of George W. Bush, the coalition of the sane was turned out of power, and bipartisanship became collaboration with the enemy.
    The Republican Party is the Party of torture, of national bankruptcy, of corporate corruption, of perpetual war, of plutocracy.
    A small, but potentially important migration of sane conservatives out of the Republican Party and, with the greatest reluctance, into the Democratic Party is taking place. That shift may ultimately involve a mere five or six percent of the electorate, but it could turn what has been a 51-49 split into a 45-55 split, and more importantly, restore sanity to power and power to sanity.
    Adding that many conservatives to the Democratic Party is going to cause strains within a liberal Party, but the Democratic Left is sufficiently frightened to do whatever is necessary to make room. But, the New Democratic Right, like all converts, are likely to be more partisan than the old Left; they are those most committed in their hostility to Republicanism.
    Lieberman is exactly the kind of conservative Democrat, who can NOT attract the conservatives leaving the Republican Party. His unwillingness or inability to be effective in saying, "no" to the outrages and insanities of the current regime marks him out as obsolete in the present environment. Even though his center of political gravity may be appropriate to a Party growing on its Right, his inability to be either partisan or truly principled, makes him wrong for the times.
    I do not think Lamont represents a particularly "left" Democratic Party; I am actually hopeful that he represents the rise of a New Democratic Right and center, which will be more sharply principled and partisan. The task before us is not just to wrestle the electorate away from the Republicans, but to wrestle power away from the coalition of the insane, which has taken over the Republican Party, and which uses "compromise" with the likes of Lieberman as cover for elaborating their insanity.

  27. > which asserted that Lamont was
    > the reincarnation of 60's Left
    > radicalism.
    Links please? Those evil communist hippie leftists Kos and Atrios both said exactly the opposite, multiple times. I don't think Michael Moore weighed in on this one. With those bugbears out of the way, which "some Democrats" exactly said what you claim?
    Cranky

  28. Cranky, I assumed that Bruce was referring to a narrative coming from Republicans and Liebermanites, not from Lamont supporters.

  29. Steven,
    I'm probably closer to you politically that I am to the majority of strong Lamont supporters. I told MoveOn in no uncertain terms that I would not be supporting them further if they went after Lieberman or any other Democrat while there were still right-wing Republicans in Congress.
    However, I have to add my voice to the chorus here in noting that the difference between your rhetoric about Lamont and Mark's about Bush for me is not left vs. right. The problem is specific substantive complaints expressed strongly vs. equally strong words without content.

  30. but frankly it's completely in the same ballpark as comments that Mark has made about the Bushies (which I typically agreed with). The ONLY difference is that my barb was aimed left, not right.
    Steve, I just finished reading your later posts, and was willing to excuse your original statement to post-primary bitterness. But then I read this comment. If it was written after sober reflection, I'm shocked. You can't seriously believe that, can you?

  31. Well, I've been skipping Steven's post regularly for a while but now I remember why. What a disengenous, phony piece of smear this was, and what a childish response. Bush has, at minimum, five years of wreckage to account for–wreckage, arrogance, and downright lawbreaking. To "despise" such a person, or to "love" him as his base does, would only be reasonable. Lamont has no such record of public affairs and the record he does have puts him squarely in the mold of the centrist, public spirited, wasp gentleman. He could as easily be a rockefeller republican as a kennedy type. To recklessly proclaim that one "despises him" and some large portion of one's own party (are there *that* many white shoe millionaires running as democrats? ) is bizarre. and to follow it up by saying that mark's comments on bush make it all justified? childish and sickening.
    aimai

  32. I am a fairly external observer, but I like what I've seen of Lamont. I've also come of political age recently, so from my point of view, experienced politicians who are poor TV debaters are less effective than lightweights who can stay on message. Lieberman is the ultimate example of an ineffective politician for this era. He's lost two primary elections in a row in his home state (2004 and 2006, that is). The sooner we realize this and give up on bad message people, the better.

  33. Stephen, a long-time lurker here with a few reasons why I sent $$ to Ned. Some of these were previously mentioned in comments earlier.
    Lieberman:
    1)a sanctimonious bastard during the impeachment process – all too often there would be one dem agreeing with the r's thereby making it seem 'bipartisan'
    2)his failure to resign his senatorial bid while pursuing the #2 slot in 2000
    3)his 'love fest' with Cheney during the 2000 VP debate
    4)his failure to contest the 2000 vote in FL
    5)his support for the Terri Schiavo legislation and subsequent sanctimonious pandering
    6)his savaging of Lamont during their debate (contrast with #3)
    7)his defiance of the voters by running as an independent AFTER he lost his primary – had he any respect for his constituency he'd have declared independent BEFORE the primary. Sore Loserman indeed! Before progressives can have a place in the democratic party, the Liebermans need to leave it. We have a big tent but it's not that big.
    Oh, BTW, his continued support for GW's war in Iraq.
    Looks like it's time for me to send Mr. Lamont another check…

  34. Steven Teles wrote, "Ok, the 'despise' comment was over the top, but frankly it's completely in the same ballpark as comments that Mark has made about the Bushies (which I typically agreed with). The ONLY difference is that my barb was aimed left, not right."
    HUH? (As a poster pointed out above: "No, it's not. The Bush crew have demonstrated incompetence verging on malice; Lamont has demonstrated only that he can run an effective primary campaign.")
    Pending a clarification of this remark, your credibility is now rated "zero".

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