Thursday, August 03, 2006

Joe's new woes and the politics of flailing

More horrific news for Joe Lieberman today. The new Quinnipiac University Poll reports that the three-term Democratic senator, who nearly became vice president of the United States just six years ago, now seems destined to be humiliated in next Tuesday's Connecticut primary -- in essence, booted out of the party by a decisive share of the state's Democratic voters.

The new figures conclude that 54 percent of likely primary voters are flocking to political neophyte Ned Lamont, the antiwar challenger who has made Lieberman's hawkish Iraq stance -- and, more specifically, Lieberman's staunch support for President Bush on Iraq -- the central issue of his surprising upstart campaign. Lieberman pulls 41 percent. That 13-point gap is a significant setback for Lieberman, who trailed by only four points in the last Quinnipiac poll on July 20.

And a good case can be made that Lieberman's situation is even more dire than these numbers suggest. As Connecticut analyst (and former state senator) Kevin Rennie points out, a primary election held in the heat of August is likely to attract only the most motivated voters -- and, in this instance, a disproportionate share arguably will be the antiwar liberals most angered by Lieberman's Bush-enabling behavior. Rennie and his sources believe that the pollsters are undercounting this cohort. All told, he concludes today, "It's a mug's game for a moderate Connecticut Democrat to try to beat a jazzed liberal in a primary."

I suspect that Lieberman's people are sampling the same numbers, which may well explain why Lieberman has been flailing wildly in recent days, making specious charges against Lamont. He has tried to impugn Lamont for working across the aisle with Republicans during Lamont's brief stint as a Greenwich selectman -- even though Lieberman touts himself as a sensible guy who works across the aisle with Republicans in Washington. Meanwhile, this week, Lieberman is assailing Lamont for being a "millionaire" with vast family wealth, even though Lieberman touts himself as a proud devotee of John F. Kennedy -- a millionaire with vast family wealth, whose father greased his path to power.

But perhaps the best indication of Lieberman's dire predicament is the charge -- circulated by some of his supporters -- that the senator's political critics are motivated in part by anti-Semitism.

I have received emails that attempt to document that charge. Lieberman supporters have managed to cull a few comments posted by bloggers on the Internet. (One example, referring to Lieberman: "...everybody knows , Jews ONLY care about the welfare of other Jews." A second example: "Ned needs to beat Lieberman to a pulp...and define what it means to be an American who is NOT beholden to the Israeli Lobby." Another: "Geez, if Lieberman loses his Senate seat, it may out his multi-million graft as lobbyist for Israel at risk.")

Well, if you troll the Internet long enough, you'll find anything. There's no doubt that a relatively small slice of the antiwar left is hostile to Israel, and little doubt that some of those hostiles extend their enmity to Lieberman. But most Democrats who oppose Lieberman -- because of his stance on the Iraq war -- would hardly be pleased with the insinuation that perhaps they are motivated by anti-Semitism. Indeed, liberal (and Jewish) activist David Sirota argues on his own blog that the anti-Semitism insinuation is "gutter politics."

Unless Ned Lamont decides to bring Mel Gibson into his campaign, I simply see the anti-Semitism charge as further evidence of Joe's woes. Playing the "victim" card is rarely a sign of strength.


Speaking of Mel Gibson (and how can I resist?), I have been waiting with interest to see how conservative commentators would treat the news of his anti-Semitic remarks. Their general take on Hollywood is that it's a left-wing, anti-values cesspool, and they view every left-leaning word and deed from the likes of Barbra Streisand and Michael Moore as grist for the mill. So how would they react when a conservative values megastar -- somebody with a track record of assailing gay people, campaigning against stem cell research, and opposing Catholic Church reforms -- is unmasked as a Jew-baiter? How does that square with the conservatives' stereotype of Hollywood (a place where, in reality, the only ideology is money)?

Well, now we have the answer: Mel is really just another Michael Moore Hollywood liberal.

Columnist Don Feder says that Mel is "chummy" with Michael Moore, who has criticized Israel in the past, so there you have it. Besides, as this conservative blog points out, Mel has even questioned the war in Iraq, just like Moore has (and there's even a picture here of Mel and Michael together).

So there's the solution for conservative discomfit: Lump Mel with the liberals, and the old stereotype remains intact.