Most of the ramifications of Joe Lieberman's extraordinary defeat will require some time to discern, but one thing is already painfully clear. With his behavior Tuesday night, Lieberman has turned himself into the most vivid symbol of the insular, arrogant, corrupt and power-desperate Washington establishment, the sheer cravenness and corruption of which are what catalyzed the campaign against him in the first place.
Those who compose that entrenched Beltway power establishment -- the endlessly reelected political officials, the hordes of consultants and lobbyists who feed off and control them, and the pampered, self-loving "journalists" who enable it all -- are characterized by a single-minded quest to perpetuate their own power, flavored by a thinly masked contempt for the masses on whose behalf this system ostensibly plods along. Lieberman's conduct last night was a perfect textbook for all of those afflictions.
Like the establishment mavens who rushed to defend him, Lieberman exposed himself as a man driven by a single, overarching motivation -- a desperate desire to cling to his source of power, his Senate seat, not because of any political ideals he wants to pursue but solely because of the personal satisfaction, attention and benefits it provides him. Embodying one of the defining attributes of the permanent Beltway class, Lieberman plainly craves -- has become addicted to -- the petty trappings of his role in the grand Beltway court. The only cause that seems to stir Joe Lieberman to anger, aggression and confrontation is the glorious struggle for Joe Lieberman to cling to his Senate seat.
The man whose (largely Republican) media supporters glorified him as one of the few "men of principle" left in Washington has revealed himself to be bereft of all principles save one -- the "principle" that Joe Lieberman's Senate seat belongs to him personally and that no mere voters, those silly, unenlightened masses, have the right to take that away from him. In the face of this rare testament to true democracy -- the decisive rejection of Lieberman by Connecticut voters in defiance of virtually the entire national political establishment -- Lieberman had nothing but scorn, contempt and defiance for their decision.
He thus intoned: "I am disappointed not just because I lost, but because the old politics of partisan polarization won today. For the sake of our state, our country and my party, I cannot and will not let that result stand." This man of principle "will not let that result stand" -- "that result" being the considered decision of the voters whom he has claimed to represent for the last 18 years.
A more selfish and craven act is difficult to imagine. Lieberman single-handedly will impose endless grief and conflict on his Democratic colleagues who loyally rallied to support him. He will drain attention and resources away from his party's already difficult struggle to restore balance and oversight to our federal government, and to end one-party rule in November. He will sow still more intense divisions and raging hostilities among those who oppose the Bush administration. And he will subject his state to three more months of electoral warfare while he forces it to have what is sure to be an increasingly bitter and nasty election -- an election that it just had.
And this "man of principle," this elevated gentleman who is too pure and righteous for Washington, will do all of that for one reason and one reason only -- because he is too weak and selfish to give up his Senate seat and accept the decision of Connecticut voters that they want a different senator representing their interests in Washington. The fallout from the well-deserved and desperately needed blow dealt to the national political establishment will be unclear for some time to come, but one thing that is not unclear is Joe Lieberman's character. He has revealed it for all it to see.