TCS Daily

Independent's Day

By Ilya Shapiro - August 9, 2006 12:00 AM

Though his "Joe-mentum" -- translating into a furious final ten days of campaigning -- closed the gap from the double-digit lead that Ned Lamont held in some polls of only a week ago, Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman has nevertheless become the first incumbent U.S. Senator to lose a primary since 1980. The loss is official, with challenger Ned Lamont squeaking out 51.8 percent of the vote against the 2000 Vice-Presidential nominee's 48.2 percent.

The small difference, 10,000 votes out of over 282,000 cast, may overstate the tightness of the race because nearly 30,000 people registered as Democrats in the final weeks (both new and previously unaffiliated voters) -- in a state where 44 percent had been registered independents.

Still, the 282,000 represented over 50 percent of the eligible electorate, a stunning turnout for a state primary in the dog-days of summer. The figure is no doubt a reflection of the microcosm of national politics that the Connecticut primary had become (because, of course, Lieberman unflinchingly voted to go to war in Iraq, and has steadfastly supported President Bush on foreign policy), and the attendant media attention.

Throughout his campaign, Lamont insisted that he was no "one-issue candidate," that it was the depth of his platform that gave people a reason to vote for him rather than against Lieberman. But who was he kidding? This was a retrospective referendum on Iraq, and the "Democratic wing of the Democratic party" -- to use now-DNC chair Howard Dean's famous slogan from the 2004 presidential race -- ejected one of the most down-the-line Democrats of the past 25 years.

In all the spin about how a "moderate" cannot win given our nascent "politics of polarization," we lose sight that Lieberman's supposed moderation rests mostly in his even-tempered disposition. This is a man, after all, who received an 80 percent approval rating Americans for Democratic Action and only 8 percent from the American Conservative Union (less than Hillary Clinton and Barbara Boxer and equal to Chuck Schumer and John Kerry). Heck, even in voting to authorize President Bush to go to war in Iraq, he was joined by a majority of his colleagues (including Clinton, Schumer, John Edwards, and Minority Leader Harry Reid) in a lopsided vote that was greater than that approving the first Gulf War.

Yet Lamont adviser Jesse Jackson said in an op-ed in the Chicago Sun-Times Monday that "A loss for Lieberman would be a win for progressives." Jackson went on to fault his party's putative Vice-President -- many who pulled the lever for Lamont no doubt still consider Al Gore to be President -- for "embracing key elements of the conservative agenda," including questioning certain excesses of affirmative action and supporting cuts in capital gains taxes that have ushered in a new class of investors.

Such arguments expose the nasty truth at the heart of the modern "Party of Jefferson": You have to embrace the entire Democratic catechism (abortion on demand, racial preferences, etc.) or risk banishment from this "party of inclusion." While accusing the GOP of being a group of intolerant extremists -- so intolerant that the party establishment is funding Lincoln Chafee (who has a voting record equal to Lieberman and Clinton, and more liberal than 14 Democratic senators) against a conservative opponent -- it is the Democrats who are repeatedly shown to have binding litmus tests.

What does this say about the (heavily Democratic) Jewish vote? Forgetting for a moment that Lieberman is an Orthodox Jew who refrains from campaigning on the Sabbath -- because religion qua religion is no longer an issue in American politics (or so hopes Mitt Romney) -- how comfortable should Jews be in a party that rejects any semblance of a hard line in the war on Islamofascism? While the Bush administration has been a better friend to Israel than arguably any in U.S. history, most Jews continue to, as the anachronistic wag went, "live like Episcopalians but vote like Puerto Ricans."

While we have no exit polls out of Connecticut broken down by religion, it is safe to say that Jews -- and all those who support peace and freedom in the Middle East -- should be wary of the signals that Lamont's big win sends America's enemies.

And so, after calling his challenger to congratulate him on his victory, Lieberman pronounced that, "We've just finished the first half and the Lamont team is ahead, but, in the second half, our team -- Team Connecticut -- is going to surge forward to victory in November."

While many would welcome that result, a better lesson for the "big tent" Democratic Party would be for Republican Alan Schlesinger to eke out victory from a three-way race in this very blue state (John Kerry's sixth-highest margin) that promises to continue being a major focus of the 2006 campaign.

Ilya Shapiro is a lawyer and TCS contributing writer whose last "Dispatch from Purple America" asked why we couldn't all just get along.


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