The Lieberman earthquake

A win by Lamont in Connecticut would be a huge blow to the establishment.

Published August 7, 2006 5:00PM (EDT)

Because conventional wisdom now holds that a Ned Lamont victory is all but certain, there is a risk of overlooking the real significance of a Lamont win. (And, incidentally, any complacency about that ought to be at least somewhat diluted by today's new Quinnipiac poll showing Lamont's lead reduced from 13 to six points).

Polls notwithstanding, it is hard to overstate what a profound and monumental upset it will be if Ned Lamont defeats Joe Lieberman. There are few positions that offer greater job security than being an incumbent member of the U.S. Congress. The reelection rate for incumbents in the House is now 98 percent, a figure that would create envy even among 1970s Politburo members. It is extremely rare for a three-term senator to lose an election, let alone lose to a primary challenger from his or her own party.

For some time now, this has been one of the greatest and most frustrating contradictions in our political system. Americans are overwhelmingly dissatisfied with, even contemptuous of, Congress, yet they continue to reelect the same representatives over and over, making reelection effectively automatic.

It is not hyperbole to describe a Lieberman defeat as an earthquake for the political establishment -- which is why virtually all members of that establishment, from both political parties and from its pundit class, have been enthusiastically supporting Lieberman. More than any other factor, what enables elected officials to be so unresponsive to the views of those whom they ostensibly represent is that their incumbency advantage effectively eliminates the fear of being removed from office.

The supremacy of incumbency has given birth to a more or less permanent Beltway class that views its power as an entitlement, something that its members have the divine right to possess until they choose to relinquish it. It is that aristocratic mindset that explains the bizarre sense of anger and offense triggered among the political and pundit classes -- and within Lieberman himself -- by Ned Lamont's aggressive primary challenge. The effort to defeat Joe Lieberman was considered to be improper, uncouth, even somehow undemocratic by those most entrenched in our stagnant, plodding, virtually immovable political structures.

Beyond striking a blow against the Iraq war and the neoconservatives who are responsible for it, a Lamont victory would deal a hard blow to the power of incumbency and the entitlement mindset it has spawned. It would be seen, rightfully so, as a repudiation of the Beltway pundit and political classes that, from the start and with virtual unanimity, viewed the Lamont challenge with scorn, as a distasteful rebellion by the crazed, dirty, unenlightened masses. The most important impact of a Lamont win is that it would shake the foundations of a self-contained Beltway political structure that is as unresponsive as it is corrupt at its core.

By Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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