Friday, August 11, 2006

Did Lieberman Really Lose Because of Iraq?

Update: Bill Richardson, governor of my home state (that I'll never go back to) and influential beyond my expectations for him has called for Lieberman to drop out.

The post mortem on Ned Lamont's victory over Lieberman is that the sitting senator from Connecticut lost a referendum on the Iraq war and the Bush White House. In a sense, that's true. But I don't believe it tells the whole story.

I was pulling for Lamont and I wanted a much bigger victory for him than the 3.8% he got. I don't mean to take anything away from Lamont. Beating an incumbent in a primary by even one vote is unheard of. But, it was close. So close that Lieberman really could have and shoukd have run.

I think what killed him was his declaration that he'd run as an independent even if he lost. Had he never said that, he probably would have eked out a win (a win so close that he'd have to be blind not to realize was a rebuke, but still a win).

This wasn't just an election about Iraq or about Bush, it was about something larger -- it was really an election about whether or not sitting elected officials should feel entitled to keep their posts. What Lieberman said, when he said he'd run even if he lost, is that his parties voters don't know what's good for them. Those voters rejected that notion at least as fervently as they have rejected the Iraq war.

Honestly, I hate the two party system and I love fringe candidates and independents. But Joe Lieberman is no real independent. For nearly two decades, he let a party apparatus help him (all the way to a veep nomination). Now, when it doesn't serve him, he rejects it.

I wish we had proportional representation that would give parties other than the Democrats and Republicans a voice in the legislature and I've supported local green candidates in the past and I've often been intrigued by, and have voted for, minor party candidates in many elections. But Joe Lieberman isn't an outsider who's out to remake the system by challenging our current conventions -- he's an insider trying to preserve his own position after the conventional machine that he relied on failed him.

This campaign by Lieberman isn't about breaking the duopoly in American politics. It's driven, instead, by Egomentum. His current campaign is all about his belief that he knows what's best for everyone and that we should all shut up and follow along.

It's really about Lieberman considering himself a member of some sort of aristocracy. It's downright Platonic, really. He thinks of himself as a philosopher-king.

He might even win on that idea. I have faith that people will reject his bid because of his arrogance and presumptions. But, they might not. Given that we now have a two-term scion of a one-term president (from an infuential family in both government and finance) and given that the wife of a former two term president is a possible Democratic front runner and given that Democratic presidential nominees like Gore and Kerry were both from families of privilege and that it always seemed to me that either Kerry or Gore had more in common with their opponent than with any of their supporters... I kind of worry that we've fashioned an American aristocracy that functions within the confines of a democratic republic.

It's easy to look back at our founders and to mock them all for their suspicion of "the mob," or the unwashed masses. But, in a way, we're still having that same debate and we always have been. Lieberman is almost Hamiltonian in his point of view and by point of view, I don't mean his policy positions, I mean his broader philsophy -- he really believes that there are elites, and that he's one of them, and that they know better than the rest of us.

I've always been skeptical of charges of elitism, whether they're fronted by a guy like Dan Quayle (who pursued the "liberal elites") or by Noahm Chomsky (who has pursued elites who serve business and power to further a conservative agenda whether they know it or not). It doesn't make my case any easier that I have to point out that the election battle between Lamont and Lieberman was waged between two men who are among the richest citizens of the richest state in the Union.

But, I do see a real issue in that primary and in our current national discourse -- are we a democratic nation full of people who vote to be led, or are we a democratic nation that leads its representatives? I sadly think that we've become the former. I'm really sure that Lieberman's independent campaign is one that assumes the former as not only true, but proper.


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