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July 31, 2006

The Political Is Personal

Like Digby, I'm fascinated by the segment of the punditocracy that is less pro-Lieberman than anti-anti-Lieberman, less interested in the issues at hand than whether their coalition is sufficiently free from peaceniks and bloggers. It's the Iraq War debate transposed to the domestic realm. You'd think patchouli was some sort of terminal, communicable illness by the way these folks flee from anything with the faintest whiff of hippy.

I tried to get some of this across last week, but it should be stated clearer: Politics is identity. That's true everywhere, but no more so than Washington, DC, where in addition to identity, it's life. It's a comforting fiction that the mandarins in this town sit down with the issues, or at least the poll numbers, and honestly struggle towards their eventual conclusions, but in the end, they're no less instinctual or self-obsessed than anyone else. Quite the opposite, in fact. When you define yourself by your actions and position in the political realm, the choices become much weightier, much more about who you are than what the issues are. And the Lamont challenge has awoken this sort of tribalism more so than most. Those who fear or hate the barbarians at the gates have stuck with Lieberman, seeing in his defeat portents of coming change they'd rather stem. Those who condemn the gatekeepers have thrown in with Lamont, seeing in his victory currents that could lead to their own eventual ascendence. It's a wonder either side can even recall who's running.

Because it's not, in fact, that the bloggers have a purer ideological critique than the Lieberman defender, many of whom loathe Joe with a specificity and historical memory few bloggers can even approach. It's just that many of his supporters know who they're not. They are not Ned Lamont supporters. They are not purgers. They are not hasty, or rash, or impulsive, or vituperative, or partisan. They do not see for themselves a place in the politics they assume Lamont's insurgency represents. This isn't about a mild-mannered cable executive and his surprisingly successful primary challenge. It's not about a mild-if-hawkish senator. Not on our side, not on theirs. If the personal is political, so too is the political personal, and an overwhelming number of the out-of-staters anxiously observing Lamont's race -- on both sides -- are scanning for the outcome that will validate their them, their friends, their movement. For Nutmeggers, this may be a battle over a Senate seat. For DC, however, it's about so much more.

July 31, 2006 | Permalink


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It's a wonder either side can even recall who's running.

I'd like to think that I, and to a lesser extent the commenters who disagree with me, are immune to these problems. Certainly we don't need to be concerned with our complete way of life. But this is a danger for us all.

Posted by: Stephen | Jul 31, 2006 9:04:56 AM

So was this written before or after the New York Times endorsed Lamont? Or does NYT not count as a member of this pundit elite just because conservatives hate them enough?

Yes, in DC everything is about friends and connections and pork and a thousand other nepotistic regularities that would make a mafia don blush. But a desire to defend your friend does not mean you are on one side of a manichean war between the challenger and the privileged.

Posted by: Tony v | Jul 31, 2006 9:40:07 AM

I'm fascinated by the segment of the punditocracy that is less pro-Lieberman than anti-anti-Lieberman

You don't have to go to the punditocracy to find that. Petey himself said that he loathed Lieberman but would vote for him in the primary if he lived in CT because he didn't want to see the "netroots" faction and DFA have any successes or get any additional power.

Posted by: Constantine | Jul 31, 2006 9:55:49 AM

Here's an interesting but little discussed fact. Lieberman's supporters (or, as you well put it, the anti-anti-lieberman supporters) are by and large people who think they "know" lieberman personally--and so for them its all personal. They project that onto those of us who oppose lieberman, and insist (like the pro bush faction) that the only reason to oppose someone is because of personal dislike, rather than policy issues. The converse of this may be true, that some people support politicians because they "like" them personally rather than through a careful matching of political/policy positions. That really isn't true of the anti lieberman crowd. By and large we don't know lieberman personally *and we never will* and we don't know lamont personally *and we never will*. Allwe have to go on, and all we really carea bout, are *policy positions*. Its certainly true that I hate lieberman's policy positions, but I could care less about him as a person.


Posted by: aimai | Jul 31, 2006 10:24:55 AM

Mark Schmitt has (as per usual) the best summary of what's going on:

And I think that’s what blows the mind of the traditional Dems. They can handle a challenge from the left, on predictable, narrow-constituency terms. But where do these other issues come from?
And a vision of a just society - not just the single-issue push-buttons of a bunch of constituency groups - is what a center-left political party ought to be about. And at the end of this fight, I don’t expect that we’ll have a more leftist Democratic Party, but one that can at least begin to get beyond checklist liberalism."
At the end of the day, we elect people to act as our agents, people who will make the decisions we would make, if we were in that position and well-informed. And, in no small part because of the mindless and close-eared way the Democratic political leadership lined up behind the Iraq invasion, a sizeable portion of the Democratic base just doesn't trust the present Democratic leadership (or the DLC or TNR) to behave in the way it would in those positions. People explain that distrust in different ways--I often see it as a function of geographic location, others see it as corporatism or path-of-least-resistance "leadership"--but the distrust is the commonality.

Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Jul 31, 2006 10:27:23 AM

There's a few other factors in this.

1) Embarrassment - the DC smart set enthusiastically supported the Iraq War. Despite the fact that the whole rest of the world was screaming its head off - don't be stupid. The DC "intellegentsia and a few nut cases in London thought it was a great idea.

Well they were wrong - pathetically wrong. And now they keep on bouncing around avoiding admitting that they were suckered.

b) They were also suckered by the Bush people in 2000. The DC intellegentsia loudly proclaimed that they were "adults" showing a new face of "compassionate conservatism". Again most of the world thought Bush was a ingnorant buffoon leading a bunch of dangerous right wing retreads.

Once again, the DC intellegentsia were completely wrong.

2) The pro-incumbent bias that Josh Marshall talked about. This is also related to the whole DC village that Broder talked about after Clinton got his BJ.

3) The mathematical ignorance of a lot of the pundits - and they're continual taking of all polls at face value. But as we all know, polls change based on wording, and opinions change as people learn and experience things. Thus, they couldn't see that a wave could be generated.

Posted by: Samuel Knight | Jul 31, 2006 11:03:46 AM

I find it odd the pundits can't understand you can be a good person and a bad senator at the same time. I have employees who don't do their jobs particulary well, but are still good people.

Joe can be a good person, but the senate is not a royal title, you need to earn reelection. And Joe hasn't. His positions on Schaivo, Bankruptcy, Cheney energy plan, emergency contraception, Iraq and Iran put him outside the mainstream of the democratic party. It doesn't make him a bad guy, but it does make him a bad choice for the democratic nominee for Senate.

Its not personal at all. Its about issues and job performance. Why don't people get that?

Posted by: exhuming mccarthy | Jul 31, 2006 11:47:22 AM

Well I have to disagree a little. Clearly the blogger Progressive/DLC Corporatist tension has been there since day one but I am not looking for this race to "validate my movement", I don't need the approbation of David Broder. I am looking for this race to knock a prominant DLC third-way seeking compromizer who has sold out the legacy of FDR right out of the air.

Why are we gunning for Lieberman instead of Hillary or Biden? I actually had some guy demand an answer to this and claiming it proved anti-semitism. No the truth is you go hunting where the ducks are.

Biden is not even on the pond this year and Hillary broke away clean, Joe got off the pond late, Lamont was there to shoot the shotgun, and the left blogosphere is cheering him on "shoot, shoot, before he gets away!"

I don't have any hard feelings against the Leiber-duck, back a few years I might even have been tempted to feed him some bread crumbs. But he offers a rare opportunity to move the Democratic duck pond back to its progressive roots, and we are going to take a shot. But if we miss I am not going to hang my head and agree that the hunting trip was a mistake. At a minimum we have put the other DLC ducks on warning.

Posted by: Bruce Webb | Jul 31, 2006 11:51:59 AM

As Bruce Webb said: At a minimum we have put the other DLC ducks on warning., a very real part of the DC crowd's anti-Lamont hysteria is that a Lamont victory in the primary followed by a general election victory in November would signal a major potential 'crashing of the gates'.

That fear of having the mostly orderly back and forth between the parties upset my new forces with new directions is rumbling the earth inside the DC beltway.

Even if Joe wasn't such a putz and enabler of BushCo messges, I'd support Lamont precisely because the DC crowd truely needs to be sent a message, especially the leading Democrats who seem to be afraid of nearly everything - an opposition that does not oppose.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Jul 31, 2006 12:48:46 PM

For comparison, look at this:


A similar case, where a right-leaning Dem is challenged on the left in a primary. Except here, the incumbent engages the opponent and actually moves left on some issues.

Compare this to Joementum making fun of Lamont from day one, and being openly hostile to any suggestion that he has fallen short in any regard as Senator.

Interestingly, RI GOP senator Lincoln Chafee is facing a serious primary challenge on the right - but nobody's calling it an "inquisition" or similar hooplah. Why? My theory is that rightwing bible thumpers are an established part of life in D.C., where grassroots candidates like Lamont are not.

Posted by: Kylroy | Jul 31, 2006 1:45:29 PM

I think a key dynamic in the mainstream political media's confusion and consternation (with the exception of the NYT endorsement) over the challenge to Lieberman is that, unlike virutally every other self-destructing candidacy in memory, Lieberman has done nothing to turn the press against him.

Since Lieberman has neither attacked/neglected the press, committed a "newsworthy" faux pas, nor committed any easily-digested-storyline transgressions of ethics or character, the mainstream political media quite literally can not see any problems with Joe.

Since *they* can't see any problems with Joe, they have to turn to attacking the people who *do* see problems with Joe.

Posted by: The Confidence Man | Jul 31, 2006 2:31:22 PM

Personally, I care little whether Lamont or Lieberman wins this catfight. In either case, the primary winner will hold the Senate seat.

I just find it humorous that so many people seem to have bailed out on Jolted Joe and that the absence of these people and their support appears to have left Jolted Joe without the veritable pot in which to urinate.

Jolted Joe aligned himself, post-2000, with a faction that holds powerful, but limited footing in this nation. As Iraq continues to devolve and Israel continues to escalate, that group finds itself unable to blame others for the mess. Dick Cheney, Slick Willie Kristol, Dougie Feith, Paul Wolfowitz, and, most recently, Tony Snow have lost the support of their long-time leaders, William F. Buckley, George Will, and Francis Fujiyama.

To make matters worse, Cheney, Slick Willie, Feith, Wolfie, and Snow failed to groom adequate second-stringers when they had the opportunity. Lucianne Goldberg's son and John P. Normanson still remain waterboys. Kellyanne Conway sold herself (below market) to George Conway. FOX News is trying to groom Mike Gallagher to take Snow's spot, and Gallagher's barely housebroken. Even Cheney's daughter bailed, although she received a lovely golden parachute book deal in the process.

Perhaps Jolted Joe is heading down this same path. Call "Dandy" Don Meredith. For Jolted Joe, it may well be time to croon, "Turn out the lights/the party's over."

Posted by: Mark | Jul 31, 2006 5:19:24 PM

"Joe can be a good person, but the senate is not a royal title, you need to earn reelection. And Joe hasn't. His positions on Schaivo, Bankruptcy, Cheney energy plan, emergency contraception, Iraq and Iran put him outside the mainstream of the democratic party. It doesn't make him a bad guy, but it does make him a bad choice for the democratic nominee for Senate."

Two comments - first, it's the wh*res who are scared - the ones who've sold out the American people for scraps of power and the media spotlight.

Second, Lieberman's positions on these issues *make him a bad person*. Evil. A good person wouldn't rewrite the bankruptcy laws to screw over millions of people, to favor credit card companies who'll give credit to a dog. A good person wouldn't vote for the Cheney 'screw the American people' energy plan. A good person wouldn't have used the Schiavo case for political gain. And so on.

Now, the DC wh*res have no problem with this, because they're very, very evil. They're just the sort of evil that works cleanly, at a distance, but they're just as evil as Jack the Ripper.

Just read some of the other posts on this blog, where various DC pundits discuss how much slaughter 'needs' to be done in Lebanon and/or Iraq and/or Syria and/or Iran, and think about what they're so blithely advocating.

Posted by: Barry | Aug 1, 2006 9:39:24 AM

Jim from Portland recognizes the killer for Dems : " an opposition that doesn't oppose". For a more public illustration of this sentiment see
http://www.newsday.com Walt Haldesman's News Flash

Posted by: opit | Aug 1, 2006 1:18:15 PM

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