Clueless Joe

Lieberman's brazen nonconcession was the sad final move of a politician who can't see he's on the wrong side of history.

Published August 9, 2006 4:35AM (EDT)

Say it ain't so, Sen. Lieberman. I expected more. My mistake, I suppose.

I tuned in to Lieberman's concession speech Tuesday night expecting an actual concession, an acknowledgment that Ned Lamont had pulled off the nearly impossible, defeating an 18-year Democratic incumbent. Of course, given the tight margin of Lamont's primary victory, I expected Lieberman would run as an independent Wednesday. Or Thursday. Maybe Monday. He'd confer with longtime advisors and supporters and decide with an air of sadness but determination he was moving on. But I didn't expect the brazen faux concession turned battle cry Lieberman unleashed on Tuesday night.

Now, if Democratic Party leaders have any courage, they'll lock arms against Lieberman's selfish move and repudiate him just as boldly and quickly as Lieberman declared he would run. Because Lieberman's run is selfish, and politically stupid. His "concession" speech echoed the Beltway wisdom that he'd been defeated by Bush haters, by the "politics of polarization." But Lamont's victory is more than the surprise uprising of Cindy Sheehans Camp Casey from last summer. The country has turned against the Iraq war, and Democrats like Lieberman -- and Republicans like, well, most Republicans -- have lost the battle for the middle ground.

Lamont's victory isn't just a win for the antiwar wing of the party. It's a victory for Americans who fear the recklessness of the Bush administration, who feel the wheels are falling off the truck, and who want Democrats to fix it. Mainstream Democrats who can't see that political reality are a threat to the party. The charge of "liberal McCarthyism" against Lamont voters and their lefty blogger backers by some Beltway voices, including Beltway Democrats -- based mainly on the words of anonymous posters in comments threads, by the way, Lanny Davis - is far worse for Democratic prospects than the random excesses of the antiwar left. (Imagine a GOP in which Karl Rove penned Op-Eds in the New York Times savaging the Christian right.) The notion that Lamont supporters are somehow "destroying the center" or killing bipartisanism is fiction; George W. Bush did that. Lieberman is suffering the consequences.

One last threadbare theme from this bitter campaign deserves retiring -- the notion that Lieberman's abandonment by Democrats is particularly shocking because he was the party's vice presidential nominee in 2000. Lieberman's 2000 role was a historical anomaly, the sad result of the impeachment farce and Al Gore's regrettable fear of Bill Clinton's infamous post-Lewinsky coattails -- which in fact might have pulled Gore to victory, not defeat. Gore chose Lieberman to distance himself from Clinton, but in fact sticking close to Clinton might have been smarter. I think Lieberman's loss has something to do with the 2000 election -- but not in the way his centrist defenders think.

Lieberman deserved a night to lick his wounds. Maybe his speech was a symptom of someone hurt, lashing out in shock and pain. Maybe he'll do the right thing tomorrow, or the day after. But if he mounts the challenge he promised Tuesday night, Democratic leaders should react just as swiftly and decisively, and back the Democrat who's building the party, not killing it, Ned Lamont.

By Joan Walsh

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