Monday, July 10, 2006

A spritz of Joe with a Cheney chaser

Enough about the embattled Joe Lieberman (for now). But since my newspaper column on Lieberman and the Democratic party dilemma ran this morning, I wanted to share a few of the observations that landed on the cutting room floor:

1. Leaving aside the issue of whether Senator Lieberman is betraying his Democratic party by weighing an independent candidacy in November, he has smartly looked at the electoral math in Connecticut. If he loses the nomination in the Aug. 8 primary to antiwar challenger Ned Lamont, he appears well positioned to win a three-way autumn race (the GOP nominee is weak). A check of the state voter list bears this out. The largest chunk of Connecticut voters -- 867,76 -- are "unaffiliated" (i.e. independents), and they outnumber Democratic registrants by more than 200,000. This means that Lieberman can keep his seat by combining independents and conservative Democrats. Lamont would need to demonstrate that his staunch antiwar stance and his image as darling of the left-leaning blogosphere can attract independent voters. I am skeptical. Then again, it's only July.

2. His hawkish stance on Iraq aside, Lieberman is in big trouble with his state's liberal Democratic base because he describes himself as a conciliator who can reach across the aisle and work with Republicans. But that's precisely why his base voters think he's a chump -- because, as they see it, the highly partisan Bush administration has long demonstrated that it would rather demonize and exploit Democrats than work with them. Lieberman himself was the guy who first suggested the creation of a Department of Homeland Security; the Bush team resisted it for months, then finally swiped the idea, and painted any Democrat who opposed it (or, more specifically, opposed Bush's plan to curb civil service protections for workers) as soft on national security. And, in his debate with Lamont last Thursday, Lieberman inadvertently mentioned that his work-with-Republicans credo has been a bust; at one point, talking about a recent Senate immigration bill, he called it "one of the few bipartisan accomplishments we've had in the Senate in the Bush years."

3. If Lieberman loses the primary to Lamont, he would become the first failed Democratic vice-presidential nominee to lose his party's nomination in a subsequent race. Over the past 78 years, a lot of Democratic senators have been re-elected with ease after running unsuccessfully for veep: Joe Robinson (1928), John Sparkman (1952), Estes Kefauver (1956), Ed Muskie (1968)....

On the other hand, big deal. Lieberman's potential milestone sounds a bit like one of those obscure baseball records, something akin to Most Times Striking Out in a Home Game After Nearly Homering in the Previous Game.

4. This item is a bonus: While reviewing the transcript of Lieberman's 2000 debate with Dick Cheney, I ran across an interesting passage in Cheney's remarks. To frame it properly, let us first remember how the troops in Iraq have been sent into battle without adequate body armor, and without adequate protection for the vehicles that run the gauntlet of roadside explosives. Let us also remember how a National Guardsman who complained about this, who told Donald Rumsfeld that soldiers were being forced to "dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal," was applauded by his comrades. OK, now read this Cheney remark:

It's the commander in chief who "decides when to send our young men and women to war. When we send them without the right kind of training, when we send them poorly equipped or with equipment that's old and broken down, we put their lives at risk."