I'm a big fan of mystery novels, especially when they leave clues in plain sight and I still never manage to see them. This happens all the time in Michael Connelly's books, when detective Harry Bosch sits around, staring at all his accumulated evidence, and suddenly something that seemed innocuous 200 pages earlier smacks him between the eyes.
By now you're wondering where I'm going with this, so let me explain:
I was staring yesterday at a five-page, single-spaced handout from the Joe Lieberman campaign, up here in Connecticut. Senator Lieberman, as I noted at length in print this morning, is in deep trouble with Democratic voters, who will decide in today's state primary whether to strip him of the party label because of his staunch support for the war in Iraq and the Republican commander-in-chief who put us there. Mindful of that possibility -- perhaps too late -- Lieberman on Sunday night contended in a hastily arranged speech that he's really a lot more "anti-Bush" than people think. As he argued that night, "I have openly and clearly disagreed with and criticized the president" on the war.
I deconstructed one key passage from that speech, concerning his views about dissent, on this blog yesterday. Now I want to address that handout, which was circulated on Sunday night. The campaign had assembled a list of 27 Lieberman criticisms of the Bush war effort, in an attempt to buttress his argument that he's not a lockstep Bush enabler. At first glance, it looked impressive -- hey, the guy did say all these things (Example: "The divisive and unilateral foreign policy that the Administration has followed has borne bitter fruit"). Could it therefore be true that everybody has read Joe wrong?
There was something wierd about the handout, but I couldn't figure out what it was. And then late in the day, when I was no longer absorbed in campaign events, when I was no longer peeking at the sheet while stuck at traffic lights, the obvious truth smacked me between the eyes. It was my Harry Bosch moment:
I circled the dates appended to each of the 27 "anti-Bush" remarks on the war. It turned out that 21 were uttered back in 2003.
This means, of course, that his campaign can't come up with hardly anything more recent. But, beyond that, ask yourself this question: Why was Lieberman seemingly so critical of Bush in that single year, 2003? Why, for instance, did he call for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's removal in October 2003, whereas we have hardly heard him say it since?
Again, the answer jumps out: Back then, Lieberman was eyeing a presidential bid, and he had to get himself more in sync with liberal Democratic voters.
In 2003, he doing spadework for the '04 Democratic presidential nomination, preparing for the early winter primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire. And the people who vote heavily in those primaries are liberals with a strong aversion to Bush.
So, mea culpa. I missed the obvious clue. And it's doubtful that most Connecticut voters will learn anything about the '03 caveat, because Lieberman's new TV ad, which excerpts the Sunday night speech, certainly doesn't mention that most of his clear and open disagreements were uttered three long years ago in the service of his higher ambitions.
"I have always leveled with you," he told voters Sunday night, "and I'm not going to stop now." Well, he's hardly the first politician to amend that kind of pledge. And it's entirely possible he will survive this primary anyway, no matter what the polls say. The closing paragraph of my print story says it all.