Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Chickens Have Come Home to Roost in Connecticut

(September 2006)

One of the rarest political phenomena has occurred in the Connecticut Senate race: the primary defeat of a sitting United States Senator. In any normal election cycle, Joe Lieberman would have been re-elected in a cakewalk. But during this year in which Iraq has descended into a sectarian civil war, the nationalist insurgency has shown no sign abating, and it has become increasingly more apparent that the current administration’s policy in that country is an abysmal failure, even Democratic icons such as Connecticut’s junior Senator are at risk of losing their job. The reason for this is quite simple: Joe Lieberman is one of America’s most visible proponents of the Iraq War, and the citizens of Connecticut have accordingly expressed their discontent by voting for his challenger.

Some critics declare the insurgent campaign of Ned Lamont – now the official Democratic nominee for Connecticut’s Senate post – as representative of everything that is wrong with the current political system. Columnist David Brooks describes Lamont as the personification of a polarized electorate and a Democratic Party so beholden to leftist bloggers that it is incapable of tolerating intellectual diversity. Vice President Dick Cheney claims that Lamont’s primary victory indicates nothing less than the cowardice of a Party so unfit to conduct the Global War on Terrorism that it, in fact, encourages “al Qaeda types” to think that "they can break the will of the American people."

Anyone conversant in the language of spin should be able to see through this crude analysis and see that Lamont’s primary victory over Lieberman was not some Stalinist purge to maintain ideological conformity, but rather proof that our system of representative government is indeed healthy and functioning. The truth is that on a number of pivotal issues, Joe Lieberman has so assiduously followed the private virtue of voting his conscience that he committed the public vice of defying the people of Connecticut. The voters of one of the bluest of blue states are overwhelmingly against the war in Iraq, and Joe Lieberman supports staying the course. In this context, the rare primary defeat of an incumbent senator is perfectly understandable.

When he vied to become Vice President Lieberman and even President Lieberman, Senator Lieberman tacked so far to the “electable” center that he lost touch with his constituents. Indeed, some members of the chattering class have hoisted Joe Lieberman as an exemplar for centrism and moderation; however, they fail to acknowledge that though he is a moderate by national standards, by the standards of Connecticut he is on the right wing. Despite his liberal record on some issues, Connecticut Democrats have not been able to forgive Senator Lieberman for trying to keep the feeding tube in Terri Schiavo’s neck and our troops in the hostile desert villages of Anbar province.

Even though the incumbent Senator has clashed with his constituents on a smorgasbord of issues from the Medicare prescription drug program to privatizing Social Security, nothing stands out more than his unequivocal support for the Iraq War. According to a Quinnipiac poll taken shortly after the Connecticut primary, 70 percent of all Connecticut voters – and 93 percent of all Connecticut Democrats – expressed disapproval of President Bush’s handling of the situation in Iraq. Thus when the increasingly unpopular Commander in Chief planted a big wet one on Lieberman’s cheek before the last State of the Union address, it is no wonder that this kiss of death sealed the Senator’s fate before the Democratic electorate. Essentially, the political instability in Hartford and in Baghdad alike has been sown by the same untenable dynamic; the overwhelming majority of citizens of both polities want to end the American occupation of Iraq, but their public officials continue to defy the public will.

Not only has Joe Lieberman’s policy out of touch with Connecticut, but he as made a point of alienating his constituents as a matter of style. Lieberman’s speeches defending the debacle in Iraq and criticizing Democrats who criticize the President have been so enthusiastically received in Republican quarters that they have even been quoted by Bush himself to create a semblance of bipartisan consensus on his disastrous policy. In an editorial for the Wall Street Journal last November, Lieberman declared, “I am disappointed by Democrats who are more focused on how President Bush took American into the war in Iraq almost three years ago… than they are concerned about how we continue the progress in Iraq in the months and years ahead.” However, such persons concerned about the ill-fated rush to war constitute a plurality of Connecticut voters.

Though he lost the primary, Joe Lieberman has decided to stick it out in the general election as an independent candidate. As the official Republican nominee Alan Schlesinger has been dismissed as a sacrificial lamb, Lieberman has since become the de facto Republican candidate. Indeed, the GOP is the only constituency left in which there is still a modicum of support left for the quagmire in Iraq, and thus Republican organizational and fundraising networks have formed a vital part of Joe Lieberman’s general election campaign. If this race is to be seen as a referendum on changing course in Iraq, then apparently the only chance for Lieberman to keep his Senate seat is with support of a faction which disregards the sentiment of a clear majority of the American people.

The race in Connecticut is but a microcosm of the larger conflict in the American republic between a disillusioned nation which wants a change of course in Iraq and a government that values what it erroneously believes to be the pursuit of a just cause above the most basic principle of democracy: that vox populi est vox dei. Rare is the agent of governor who can violate his sacred compact with the governed and yet survive. That is why the Democrats of Connecticut have denied Joe Lieberman the privilege of serving under their banner in the United States Senate.

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