There will of course be all you care to read on the meaning of Joe Leiberman’s primary loss yesterday in Connecticut. Here’s my two cents: The Democratic Party is showing some signs of recovery.
As someone remarked (I can’t keep all the remarkers straight), it’s not the “Democrat Party” as the Republicans keep trying to assert, it’s the Democratic Party, a party that is named for a process. There’s a lot to that statement, including the observation that if you pound some sort of falsehood into people’s heads long enough, they start acting as though it was true. In fact, at its best, the Democratic Party does stand for process, for change, for development. And the Republicans do stand pretty much for stasis. That, after all, is the conservative way: just don’t mess with it.
That is why in the Connecticut Primary just past, it was the entrenched, the established, the incumbent, who rallied round Joe Lieberman. Established power tends to become conservative. Joe himself exemplifies the tendency—not accepting his own party’s rejection of him in a democratic primary election, he immediately announced he would run as an “independent.” Which in real terms means he has switched parties, because there are only two parties in U.S. politics, like it or not, and the Democratic Party has chosen Ned Lamont as their candidate for Senate in a democratic primary. Incumbency thus trumps party.
This is also why so many pundits are rallying around Lieberman. Things are good for pundits. Cokie, for example, has a nice gig on ABC Sunday, as well as a place commenting any time she likes on NPR. Why rock the boat. She has good, personal reasons to toss out the old “Oh gawd, it’s the McGovern crowd again,” jive. If the world remains as cynical and static as it’s been since Reagan, Cokie will be able to say pretty much the same cynical, static things she’s been making a good living on since she was just a smart kid with a primo political family behind her. It’s like bad teachers and old lesson plans. The first few years you have to think, but it gets easier, and then you can spend the evenings watching TV like everyone else.
But what happened in Connecticut was, actual voters came out and said, “we’re fed up with this shit, it’s time for a real change.” That is, for a change the voters were not manipulated. Partly that was because Lieberman, unlike Rove/Cheney/Bush, probably didn’t have his whole soul into the fear game. In the Connecticut Primary, Lieberman didn’t run full tilt on his war platform, or his right-wing Supreme Court Justice support platform, or his vote for Alberto Gonzales, the man who brought us Abu Ghraib, platform. Perhaps this was because mostly Democrats actually were the voting block in the primary. That was a real problem for Joe. Statistical vote-ratings aside, he had become a Republican. (As NOW told Jane Hamsher, “we don’t count cloture votes.” So much for statistics.)
At a deeper level of manipulation, we might examine for a moment the original kiss of Bush that started Lieberman on the road to ruin. The resonance to the Judas’ Kiss is surely obvious, and one wonders if Rove prepped George on this opportunity to taint one of the most powerful Democrats in the Senate (at least on paper; after all, Gore was out of politics and Leiberman was the veep nominee in 2000), or if perhaps this is George's political instinct in action--no words, just a perfect moment to nail a potential opponent, the cowboy intuitive quickdraw. Certainly Lieberman had already supported Bush policy at every important turn, and from his point of view the kiss simply annointed: he was in the in- crowd; “he loves me, he loves me.” It was probably only Lieberman's own political instincts which kept him from kissing George back. Certainly Joe displayed, in the coming months, no inclination to reconsider his support for Bush and company, and his cloture vote for Alito cast the final die for many Democrats. Joe had to go. But it's still win/win for Rove in the sense that, at any rate, a potentially formidable opponent is now defanged. If Joe should win in November, it will be as a Republican, not as a Democrat. That's the reality because it's a two-party system we have, and apparently Rove has already sent word to Joe that his counsel is available. Now it’s up to the Democratic Party to keep the ball in their court, to craft deeper victories out of this awakening electorate.
But make no mistake, it’s going to be fear city from now till November. Lamont is a serious wake-up call for Mr. Rove, and he has millions of voters who live in fear 24/7. He also has about 90% of the pundit class at his service—all the Cokies and Broders, not to mention the David Brooks—who are as afraid of being sidelined as irrelevant as they are of any more substantial policy shifts in the government. You will hear every other day about how Democrats like Lamont are going to bring the troops home from Iraq immediately if not sooner, while at the same time they will be fomenting presidential impeachment from the get-go. And of course the Lamonts are going to be fine with Gay Marriage and Euthanasia and Legalized Marijuana. And they might even take back some of those tax cuts to the very well to do who, by virtue of their wealth and status, are the real ruling class of this country. Oh, and Lamont is a turncoat too, since he (just like Joe and most of the others in the Senate) is a “millionaire” not to mention a member of the J.P. Morgan family, don’tcha know.
As far as Rove/Cheney/Bush themselves, well, they have a lot of options. They are already fanning the flames of a wider Middle East War, as are Syria and Iran. By October we may be watching tank battles, air strikes, and missile exchanges all across the Middle East, and we might be looking at $5 gas as well. There will be endless talk of staying the course. Just yesterday I heard a Republican Pollster on NPR say that while Americans view the Iraq War as a disaster and a failure, only one in five Americans want to bring the troops home now. If Rove can translate Lamont’s message into “Bring the Troops Home Now,” Lieberman may yet win in November. Worse, Republicans may manage to maintain control of both houses of Congress. At the moment the Rubber Stamp Congress is at work on a new bill which redefines war crimes in such a way as to excuse Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Just to be on the safe side.
But Rove’s fear, and incumbent fear, has a basis in this truth, just expressed in the Connecticut Primary. The voters up there just woke up and said, “we’ve had a damn-‘nough!” We sure have. We’ve had a stolen election in 2000, another probably stolen one in ’04, a “war of choice” started and continued on false pretenses, a Supreme Court that is likely to erode Roe V. Wade incrementally until nothing is left but a meaningless husk, and perhaps most dangerous of all, a new imperial Presidency, arisen out of the ashes of the Nixon debacle by old Nixonians—Cheney and Rumsfeld, and others—who have blown on those discredited ashes till they burst yet again into flames that threaten the basic legal framework which has held the country together since 1789, the Checks and Balances. George Bush scoffs at Congress and redefines laws at his whim, and his lawyers offer him the justification of the “fact” that “we are at war,” a war on terror.
Well hell, we didn’t need to declare a war on terror, we already had the war on drugs, didn’t we? I know we lost the war on poverty, but whatever. For these people, these “Rethuglicans,” real democracy is too dangerous for America. It’s as outmoded as the quaint Geneva Conventions Mr. Gonzales brushed away when he presented his fine arguments for torture. And he seems to be such a nice man on TV. Just like Mr. Lieberman. Who knows what will happen if someone new actually gets some power, or a voice? Stick with the incumbents.
All I can say is, don’t buy it. Surely enough people are fed up, at this point, to give democracy a chance one more time. There’s a Democratic Party on the ballot. Vote for the process.
Photo credit: Gerald Herbert/AP