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July 21, 2006

It's Not About Lieberman

Josh Marshall on Lieberman:

I think the Lieberman skeptics are really on to something when they point out that in the Kondrackes and others there is this sense that for a well-liked-in-the-beltway senior pol like Lieberman to face a primary challenge is somehow a genuine threat to the foundations of the system. You'd think he was a life peer, if not an hereditary noble, suddenly yanked out of the House of Lords and forced to run for his seat like they do in the Commons.

That's what's so stunned me about this debate. I had it out the other night with a very pro-Lieberman writer who, it came clear to me, believed the entire concept of a primary challenge against Lieberman a simply illegitimate form of opposition. Lieberman, as a Democratic incumbent, had a claim on his party's nomination and his Senate seat that couldn't be challenged by a bunch of bloggers and a cable television executive named Ned. It was the impudence of the whole thing that so offended.

I've really been saddened, in fact, by how often, when I drill down into anti-Lamonter motivations, I find their ideological and electoral motivations mere sandrock obscuring a core rage at this affront to tradition and orderly succession. I didn't believe this even a few months ago, but I've been forced to conclude that what scares folks about Lamont is that he represents an assault on privilege -- Joe Lieberman's, to be sure, but also theirs, no matter what sector of politics they currently represent.

In some ways, Lieberman is the canary in their coal mine, and if his sanctimonious song stops, so too may all of theirs. They never reacted this way to the Club for Growth primaries, or the Unions' promise to work against Melissa Bean, or NARAL's threats to primary Casey, because they were comfortable with the role and global motivations of those groups -- they were part of the structure, and they sought only to make it work better for them, not substantively challenge its mechanisms. The bloggers, however, are different, more unpredictable, less obviously invested in the perpetuation of this fine political system we have. And so they represent not a challenge to Joe Lieberman, but a challenge to the establishment as a whole. And that's why the establishment as a whole is howling.

July 21, 2006 | Permalink


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The entire Lieberman/Lamont affair has, for me, crystalized what progressive bloggers are: they are, in effect, "professional citizens."

Posted by: Danton | Jul 21, 2006 12:56:02 PM

but a challenge to the establishment as a whole. And that's why the establishment as a whole is howling.

This, I think, is wrong. It's how the people in DC complaining about the bloggers may perceive it, in their deep, dead hearts. But, really, the interesting thing about the current anti-TNR/DLC groups, the anti-Iraq War groups, and the anti-Lieberman groups, is that they are all pretty representative of the Establishment class. Kos has a JD from BU, Atrios a PhD from Brown, etc. What you're really seeing is something like an unacknowledged (and maybe an unconscious) struggle between parts of the Establishment. More interesting to me is the fact that the half out of power is arguably the half with longer, deeper roots in the Establishment. Put it this way: as between GHWB (anti-Iraq war) and GWB (pro-Iraq war), the former is more representative of what we long thought of as the Establishment. You can do the same thing with the current Southern dominance in both parties and the occassional flashes of Northern distaste for it. (Kevin Philips shows this most openly.)

It's interesting.

Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Jul 21, 2006 1:00:45 PM

Josh Marshall's post was fascinating, because it highlighted how completely the DC Democratic establishment and the Senators just don't get that most Americans don't like, nor respect them.

Congressional approval rating are in the 20s. None of the Democratic leaders polls all that well amongst Democrats. Media popularity polls in the teens. But Lieberman's supporters continue to cite how popular Lieberman is amongst his colleagues, what a "nice" guy they think he is, how thoughtful, etc. They loudly advertise how popular Lieberman is amongst these extremely unpopular groups.

I just hope he wraps those anchors around him a bit more, and sinks right to the bottom.

Posted by: Samuel Knight | Jul 21, 2006 1:12:58 PM

I'm curious, Ezra. Did you find out what this pro-Lieberman reporter thought of the primary challenges against other Democrats and Republicans? He's not the only incumbent facing a challenge, and hardly the incumbent most at risk, but I haven't seen anyone editorializing on those other races. Does this reporter think there's a Lieberman exception or does he even realize he's playing favorites?

Posted by: Mike | Jul 21, 2006 1:18:58 PM

Billy "On To Damascus!" Kristol sent a $500 campaign contribution to Smokin' Joe Lieberman -- apparently the largest political donation he's made in eight years.

Joe really knows how to pick his buddies, eh? I wonder if they're even aware that they're sticking in the shiv?

Posted by: sglover | Jul 21, 2006 1:19:27 PM

The system's working exactly like it's supposed to but usually doesn't, so of course "establishment" pols are bitching about it. All incumbents seem to feel they're entitled to keep the job as long as they want and view any challenge from within their own party as some sort of affront. People in power always view a challenge not as someone exercising their reasonable, constitutional right to question authority, but as an insult, sorta like Bush does. I don't live in Connecticut, so I'm for the most part indifferent, but it is nice to see that a longtime member of Congress doesn't have to stay in until he/she dies as long as enough people care enough to actually put up a challenge.

RE bloggers: when is someone going to point out that another name for "bloggers" is "voters"?

Posted by: LL | Jul 21, 2006 1:22:22 PM

"or NARAL's threats to primary Casey,"

Casey is not part of the DC Coctail Circuit. You cannot underestimate the Coctail Circuit dynamic. Lieberman has been a Washington Insider for decades. Washington Insider status transcends party and ideology. He is "one of us" for the DC Elite as Sally Quinn would put it.

Lieberman always sides with the DC Elite on issues. His position is identical to that of the WP editorial page. On Monicagate, on desire to move on after 2000 election debacle, on Iraq war, on Alito..........take any issue....he sides with the WP editorial page and the DC Elite it represents. It is not surprising that they are all coming to his defense.

Posted by: Nan | Jul 21, 2006 1:28:28 PM

Two factors:
(1) Your average blog reader and writer tends to be pretty well educated and perhaps politically active, but had no way of getting in touch with others of like mind or acting collectively with them when the others were in far-flung parts of the country. The blogs changed all that, and now "swarm" campaigns with small donations. This is a great thing.

2. The average blogger does not rely on the MSM entirely, because she knows that the press as often as not engages in a "he said she said" game that benefits the person willing to lie the loudest. As a general rule, they are far better informed than your average citizen. When a politician makes a trade-off to save face (such as Lieberman's refusal to vote for an alito filibuster), they don't let the pol get away with the "I opposed Alito's confirmation" defense. (Or, I voted for alito before I voted against him.). Hamdan is a 5-4 decision. Thanks, Joe.

Posted by: rumpole | Jul 21, 2006 1:30:52 PM

And so [bloggers] represent not a challenge to Joe Lieberman, but a challenge to the establishment as a whole. And that's why the establishment as a whole is howling.

That's only part of the story. What must really enrage them is that a majority of voting Connecticut Dems agree with the bloggers and disagree with Da Lieb. I mean, if Lamont were pulling in 10% or even 25%, would the entitled DC class really be so upset?

This is what really rankles me -- the fundamental hostility toward the intelligence and opinions of the people they supposedly represent.

Posted by: Sakitume! | Jul 21, 2006 1:34:42 PM

Most D.C. reporters are Lieberman-style Democrats. That's where their critiques of the Democratic Party always seem to come from, and where most of their views align.

Posted by: Chris | Jul 21, 2006 1:42:10 PM

Few more reasons that the DC publishing community might be freaking out with this primary challenge:

1) If Lamont wins this would be the first online win. They've come close a few times, Hackett, etc. but never won. Coming from 50 points down to knockout a nationally known figure would be one heck of a first win.

2) The readership on the liberals blogs goes up and up. The readership, viewership and attention ship at the DC trade press keeps going down. They hate the competition.

3) Iraq. The DC establishment were completely utterly wrong about Iraq. The whole rest of the world, except for a few other idiots in London were screaming their heads off before the War in Iraq, but the DC "thinkers" thought they were all lunatics. This really rubs there face in that failure.

4) The DC establishment were completely, utterly wrong about Bush. He was a "uniter". He was an "adult" with a great "team". Again most of the rest of the world thought he was bumbling ignoramus. Oops, and Lieberman, like Blair, tied himself to that Bush.


One last note: Most of the Lieberman supporters also knows that the independent run is baloney. If he loses the primary by more than a bit, he becomes a loser - and his poll ratings in the 3-way tank.

Posted by: Samuel Knight | Jul 21, 2006 1:46:13 PM

Good notes, I agree w/ what's been said. Samuel Knight, one correction--congressman Ben Chandler in KY, congressperson Stephanie Herseth in SD, Barack Obama in the Dem. primary & later general election (which was a real race until the Rep self-destructed), and governors Tim Kaine and Jon Corzine all qualify as blogosphere wins (and there are 2 or 3 others I'm forgetting); it's just that in all 5 of those cases, there was no establishment opposition, only Republican opposition. This may be the first case of Blogosphere vs. Cocktail Party circuit, which may explain the anger.

But it *is* bizarre. Were these people up in arms about Pat Toomey challenging Specter in '04? About Laffey challenging Chaffee this year?

Posted by: Greg M. | Jul 21, 2006 1:56:20 PM

Greg M,

The other two you are missing are Tester in MT and Webb in VA...

Tester was against the party establishment and he destroyed the insider candidate...they are just trying to stem the tide that is coming.

I mean, if anyone who can appeal to the voters can just waltz in and have access to office...what the hell?![/sarcasm]

Posted by: Nazgul35 | Jul 21, 2006 2:17:27 PM

This primary against Joe Lieberman, a truly great man, is a travesty! You people have no idea what you are doing. What kind of sick, twisted worldview do you hold?

Joe is fighting back on the Internet with his own blog now. You're all gonna be sorry.

Posted by: Joe | Jul 21, 2006 2:21:27 PM

Whatever Lieberman's sins were originally, when he announced the independent campaign (on the Lieberman for Lieberman for Joe for Lieberman party) he made it clear that he is exactly what a democratic system is supposed to prevent: a leader who sees his post as an entitlement, rather than a gift from the people. That alone should be reason enough to vote for Lamont.

Posted by: Tom Hilton | Jul 21, 2006 2:25:58 PM


But, really, the interesting thing about the current anti-TNR/DLC groups, the anti-Iraq War groups, and the anti-Lieberman groups, is that they are all pretty representative of the Establishment class. Kos has a JD from BU, Atrios a PhD from Brown, etc. What you're really seeing is something like an unacknowledged (and maybe an unconscious) struggle between parts of the Establishment.


Put it this way: as between GHWB (anti-Iraq war) and GWB (pro-Iraq war), the former is more representative of what we long thought of as the Establishment.

Um... so let me get this straight:

1) Going to BU or Brown makes someone automatically "part of the Establishment"?

2) Atrios, Kos, and the rest of the left/pro-Lamont blogosphere are part of George H.W. Bush's crowd?

Those are certainly... strikingly original opinions.

Clearly, a lot of people still don't understand what the blogs are all about.

Posted by: Maximus | Jul 21, 2006 2:28:57 PM

I agree completely, Samuel. Lieberman has a very Jacob Javits* feel about him now. If Lieberman loses the primary, he's damaged goods, and that's that. The CT republicans will back the republican, and the democrats will back the democrat. That doesn't leave much left for Joe.

* The generally quite popular Javits lost the 1980 republican primary in NY to Al D'Amato and ran an indy campaign. He got crushed in the 3 way.

Posted by: Geeno | Jul 21, 2006 2:30:45 PM

is that they are all pretty representative of the Establishment class. Kos has a JD from BU, Atrios a PhD from Brown, etc.

This is quite the novel theory, I must admit. Getting a JD makes one part of the "establishment"? Or a PhD?

So any advanced degree makes you establishment? Or just those from Northeastern universities? Do some advanced degrees mean more than others? My buddy who has a PhD in philosophy from Harvard, is he now establishment? And where are they now that he needs a job?

Or is it just holders of advanced degrees who blog? So advanced degree holders have a provisional membership in the "establishment", but only if they head on over to blogspot and activate it?

Posted by: kos | Jul 21, 2006 2:39:05 PM

the entire concept of a primary challenge against Lieberman a simply illegitimate form of opposition.

I wonder how they feel about a challenge to Zell Miller?

Posted by: Adrock | Jul 21, 2006 2:49:54 PM

Worse than that kos.

You gave a Brown grad with a JD access to your FP.

It is an Establishment clique you have formed.


Posted by: Armando | Jul 21, 2006 2:53:28 PM


The only thing I wonder about in the 3-way (should it happen), would be that Schlessinger looks so incredibly weak right now. If the CT GOP can't get him off the ballot, I can't help but to think that a lot of CT Republican voters would be willing and able to pull the lever for Lieberman. That said, I still think the Javits analogy is on target, and losing the primary would have a devastating impact on his standing in the general.

Posted by: Rich C | Jul 21, 2006 2:57:18 PM

Maximus, kos:

I seem to have said this badly. I'll try to be more substantive later, but just to clarify:

1. It wasn't meant as a criticism, but as a complement. Not clear that matters to either of you; it could be that the notion of not being anti-Establishment (or whatever) is what's offensive.

2. The JD, the PhD, and sainted "Brown," are all pretty standard Establishment indicia of "people who should be treated seriously." There are, as Atrios sometimes notes, lots of reasons to think these are silly reasons to categorize people as serious. But they're still pretty standard indicia.

3. As many people, including kos (I think), have noted, the "netroots" (or that part of it which is easiest ot see) is not very radical. Indeed, my own sense has always been that the netroots arose as a response to the radicalness of the Bush Administration and the apparent blindness of the national media and the opinion makers to that fact.

I take the netroots as opposing the Iraq war on something like realist grounds--because it was stupid. I take the netroots as opposing the Padilla policy on the grounds that it was an outrageous deviation from what you would usually consider standard policy (and constitutional behavior) towards a citizen. I take the netroots as opposed to Alito and Roberts not because they might not be sufficiently aggressive in moving the law forward, but because they might roll the law backwards.

All these strike me as what I would once have thought of as pretty standard Establishment perspectives. Or, maybe better, I take the netroots' reaction to the Bush Administration and the DLC/TNR block to be one of defending what was previously the common understanding of what America is, and how it should behave. And I think that's why you see unexpected commonalities popping out from places like Scowcroft, George Will, etc.

Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Jul 21, 2006 3:11:59 PM

Good points, good corrections, Greg M and Nazagul, there have been several campaigns in which the bloggers have organized and helped a progressive candidate win.

What strikes me as different in this case is that Lamont appears to have been launched almost alone by the bloggers, in the other cases it was part of a broader effort.

Albeit bloggers both in and outside of CT - the national bloggers raked in the cash and buzz, but it appears the state folks really nailed Lieberman on the ground there.

But good corrections, I was, uhh, err, wrong.... God I hate writing that.

Posted by: Samuel Knight | Jul 21, 2006 3:15:32 PM

What I find most interesting about this is that the pro-Lieberman forces are assigning power to the blogosphere that it simply does not have. The money and the attention that have come from the blogosphere aren't exactly chicken feed but they also aren't sufficient to sway the voters of Connecticut unless they want to be swayed.

Frankly, the real problem here is Lieberman. He's out of touch with his constituents and he's been running a truly awful, amateurish campaign. If he were not, all the blogosphere money and attention in the world wouldn't have gotten Lamont to more than, say 20% or so.

An incumbent Senator, particularly one with national stature, simply does not lose a primary campaign if he has the kind of field operation and connection to his constituents that he damn well ought to have. Lieberman doesn't; he's paying the price.

Posted by: PaulB | Jul 21, 2006 3:42:29 PM


I think you miss one key difference. Class.

Kos has a Brown JD, and paid for it via the GI Bill after military service, for example. Read through the TNR folks background, and you find a ton of trust fund kiddies. In this corner we have the legacy Brown students, and in the other the scholarship kids.

I used to call the Dean campaign the "Second Son's Rebellion". In the Middle Ages, they usually followed primogeniture, where the eldest son got everything, and the rest got bupkus. When we stopped into the coffee house in Iowa on our way to campaign, you could tell the Dean people from the Kerry people, not by their education (very similar), but by their clothes and cars. Army surplus jacket? Dean. Brooks Brothers? Kerry. Beater driven cross country? Dean. Hertz midsize rental with the GIS option, rented at the airport? Kerry.

What has happened is that for years the entree into politicas has been the Mommy and Daddy subsidy. You needed that for the connections, and simply to afford to take the crappy pay entry level politics offered. So the scholarship kids went private sector to pay off their debt, while the rich kids played politics. Politics was a game for the top 10% and their progeny.

With the internet, all of those top 40% but not top 10% folks can get in. The scholarship kids. The state school students. I'm not just talking present students, I'm talking the mid level professionals who have been able to hop in at 35, having previously been closed out as a kid just getting out of school.

That's where the split is. Class. By disintermediating politics, technology has leveled and widened the playing field. And when the commoners scrap with the nobility, it always gets ugly.

Posted by: John | Jul 21, 2006 3:58:12 PM

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