The conventional narrative of what may become Joe Lieberman’s final campaign for public office—parroted faithfully by pundits and politicians who admire the Connecticut Senator—is a moving tale of courageous dissent in the very maw of fanatical extremism. It is the story of a supremely decent public servant, purged by party activists with a mean-spirited, shortsighted, single-issue obsession. And it is a fable with a familiar moral, supposedly proving once more that the Democratic Party cannot be trusted to protect America.
Compelling as this account of the beleaguered Democrat’s travails may sound, it is very much like his position on the war in Iraq: wrong, superficial and divorced from reality.
According to the standard version, Mr. Lieberman is the victim of ferocious “liberal bloggers” from around the country. Dispersed across the United States, these meddling left-wing activists somehow conspired to launch Ned Lamont’s primary challenge, and then somehow mesmerized voters, perhaps via the Internets, to reject the Senator they had chosen three times before. Combining Internet technology with progressive ideology, the miasmic and unwholesome blogosphere now threatens to swallow poor Joe in a cloud of angry, buzzing bytes.
So a New York Times columnist denounces the Lamont campaign as a “liberal inquisition.” A Fox News commentator cries out for the “soul of the Democratic Party and the future of civility in American politics.” A syndicated columnist clucks that the end is near for “anyone who is going against the grain with unpopular views, or telling the faithful what they need to hear as opposed to what they want to hear.” A Washington Post columnist warns that “as the party moves to the left now in this primary season, it moves away from positions that will be winning in general elections.” And a former lobbyist for the Christian Coalition, magically transformed into a Democratic strategist, mocks Lamont supporters as “McGovernites with modems.”
Such hysterical reactions to the Lamont campaign reflect a poor comprehension of what has actually happened in Connecticut. A wealthy businessman and descendant of the Morgan banking family, Mr. Lamont is not a radical of any stripe. He had scarcely glanced at a blog before he decided to enter the Democratic primary, after trying to convince others to run against Mr. Lieberman. And because he is willing to finance this campaign largely with his own money, he didn’t need the fund-raising advantage enjoyed by blog-backed candidates.
Contrary to the silly myth repeated by lazy journalists and anxious consultants, the Internet did not conjure up voter opposition to Mr. Lieberman. Yet that canard has generated its own virtual reality. Blathering on so relentlessly about the supposed centrality of bloggers in the Lamont campaign, the mainstream media provided priceless free publicity to the challenger, while simultaneously “branding” his campaign as cool and new.
As for the liberal bloggers, they seem considerably more calm and pragmatic than their distraught critics. If the legions of Daily Kos are truly hell-bent on an ideological purge, why would they endorse Senate candidates Jim Webb, the “Reagan Democrat” and former Republican Navy Secretary running in Virginia, and Bob Casey Jr., the “pro-life Democrat” running in Pennsylvania? For the same reason they haven’t targeted Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, another blue-state centrist with a pro-war record—because they prefer races that can be won.
What is most astonishing about typical commentary on the Connecticut primary, aside from the nonsense about bloggers, is the prevailing attitude toward the war in Iraq. While the catastrophic consequences of the invasion and occupation are now so obvious that conservative columnists and Republican politicians can no longer evade them, liberal Democrats are expected to keep their mouths shut. And many of them do, evidently fearful of accusations that they want to “cut and run.”
But anyone who knows how to read a poll—indeed, anyone who has read a poll during the past several months—knows that popular opinion on the war is strongly negative. The American public now understands that the Bush administration deceived them about its reasons for invading Iraq, that the President never had any serious plan for establishing order there, and that he badly understated the costs and grossly overstated the benefits of “regime change.” They are beginning to understand that his belligerent foreign policy has been a sham, and that his management of the war on terror has been a shame.
Unfortunately for Mr. Lieberman, he understands none of those things. He doesn’t comprehend that a war costing thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars is not just a “single issue.” He doesn’t realize that repeating White House talking points about the war is not going to win him any votes this year. He has left the reality-based community for the never-land of neo-conservatism—and if he loses, that will be why.