Matt Lauer: Let me go back to that line in your speech last night. I’ll paraphrase it if you don’t mind. You said, for the sake of your state, your country and my party, you will not let these results stand. It’s a nice line in the speech, but the fact of the matter is there are a lot of Democrats who think that now going forward you are putting your own personal ambitions above the good of the party. How do you respond to that?
Joe Lieberman: Well, I think it’s time for somebody to break through the dominance of both parties by the margins of the parties, which happens in primaries. I think it’s time for somebody to break through and say, Hey, let’s cut out the partisan nonsense. Yes, I’m a proud Democrat, but I’m more devoted to my state and my country than I am to my party. And the parties today are getting in the way of our government doing for our people what they need their government to do.
This is a potentially powerful route for Mr. Lieberman to take—a break from both major parties, a declaration of personal independence, a canny attempt to take advantage of the growing intraparty frustrations that are rising in both parties, and an attempt to get out from under what is Mr. Lieberman’s biggest problem, his insiderism, the sense that he helped create the reality that has today’s voters feeling pessimistic and frustrated.
I don’t think the election was all about the war, though the war was a big issue and will continue as one. I don’t think it was all about his being “too close with Bush,” though that mattered too. Mr. Lieberman was a longtime member of the American governing establishment. Ned Lamont will try to paint him as the poster boy for everything that no one likes about those who govern America.
In the middle there is growing unease with the paths we’re on. On the left there is a rising spirit of “Down, tear it down.”
If I were Mr. Lamont’s campaign chairman I’d be thinking like this: Hit hard on the war and insiderism, and hit harder on Joe as a creature of the establishment. Hit him with everything. The media establishment loves him? Proof that he’s part of the problem. Who was our senator when a cabal of globalists removed America’s furniture in the middle of the night? The shoe factories gone, the making of things over, America’s steel mills a memory, real jobs for real men—change that to real “people”—removed so we can all sit in plastic cubicles and BlackBerry with Bombay? Paint Mr. Lieberman as a globalist-establishment-sophisticate more at home in Davos than Danbury.
People who watch politics tend to think charges like this are dead as Tom Joad. They think such populism has been washed away by prosperity and subsumed by high employment. I don’t think so. I think this issue hasn’t even arrived yet.
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If I were Mr. Lieberman’s campaign manager I’d take heart from Mr. Lamont’s victory speech on Tuesday night. At one point he seemed to catch himself, stop himself from going down one rhetorical route and go down another. But he didn’t do it like a pro. He did it like someone who all of a sudden remembered some political advice someone whispered in his ear. He was talking about what seemed to be a voter he’d met on the trail, and you could tell he was going to paint her frustration and despair. Then he remembered he was supposed to come across not as aggrieved but as triumphant and hopeful, so he pulled himself off the anecdote and wandered down some safer route of banality.
He was standing there with confetti glittering distractedly on his hair, and on the shoulders of his dark suit—he and his people are new enough in politics that there’s no one around him yet to brush the confetti off and say, “It looks like dandruff.” He looked as shocked as anyone that he was the Democratic nominee for senator from Connecticut. He looked like what Dick Morris, who said he’d once had Mr. Lamont as a client, said of him in his column the next day: a “rich, light-weight dilettante” who inherited the fortune of J.P. Morgan’s partner. Mr. Lamont does have the soft, startled look of the inheritor of huge wealth. And we’ll certainly be hearing more about that.
How does Lieberman fend off attacks of insiderism, go-alongism, Establishment Boy?
Bolt. Not to the left and not to the right but to the outside. Which is what he’s doing. He’s going to distance himself from his own success and point an accusing finger at the two parties that control Washington. Tone will be important here. He has to critique as if from a distance, but without bitterness, with a balance of good nature and conviction. And he’ll have his surrogates go at Mr. Lamont personally: How nice to be a rich nincompoop who has finally found his existential reason for being in entering politics. But what does he have to offer but a grab bag of resentments?
If Mr. Lieberman can persuasively position himself as an outsider—as a famous independent, aligned with neither of the reigning roving gangs—he could win.
There’s another thing he has going for him, and it’s the flip side of insiderism. He’s a grownup. He’s not an angry kid. When America gets in trouble, and everyone thinks more trouble is coming, you want grownups around. In this, Mr. Lieberman is in sharp relief to Mr. Lamont’s supporters.
Everyone in public life gets tagged. But this is one of the first times in a long time that somebody’s base got tagged. The Kos crowd is viewed by most people outside that crowd as hate-fueled, bitter and stupid—the devil’s flying monkeys making their “Eeek! Eeek!” sounds. As a political phenomenon such people do not . . . inspire. They’re not like the young lefties of old trying to be “Clean for Gene.”
They seem like people who do not—cannot—create and cohere. They seem driven by a spirit of destruction. This will take you only so far. It didn’t help when Kos himself, Markos Moulitsas, got all Robespierre the other day and instructed Harry Reid to strip Mr. Lieberman of all his committee assignments.
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The Republican candidate is going nowhere, so it’s a Lieberman-Lamont race. Former state representative Alan Schlesinger is immersed in a personal scandal, having been accused of being a high-rolling gambler who plays under an assumed name. The Hartford Courant quoted Republican state chairman George Gallo in July as saying, when the story broke, “Our mistake is that we only vetted candidates using their real names.” It seemed less than full-throated support.
So it’s Lieberman versus Lamont unless Mr. Schlesinger drops out, in which case a Republican with his own money could conceivably come forward and shake things up. A new candidate like that would take votes from Mr. Lieberman.
I wonder how national Republicans will play this? Would the White House allow a conservative to come forward? Personal ties and gratitude aside, a newly elected Joe Lieberman, free of the constraints of the Democratic Party, might be a much more reliable supporter than an independent Republican moneybags with a lot to prove.