August 10, 2006

I Love Connecticut

In today's Washington Post, we learn that Lowell Weicker still hates Joe Lieberman.

In this clash of stubborn independents, I'm on Weicker's side. Of course, it's not really a fair fight, since I've never met Lieberman, but I had Weicker for a seminar class my first year in college. Ostensibly, the class was supposed to teach us about the ins and outs of politics. In reality, it was mostly Weicker telling old stories about Connecticut politics, while we wrote a couple papers and hoped he'd remember our names when we asked him to write a recommendation for future internships on the Hill. It was a fun time; Weicker is a wonderful character, brash and voluble and egotistical and a great storyteller, and his stories never failed to capture our attention.

A number of lazy pundits, looking for a story angle that writes itself, have drawn parallels between Lieberman's odyssey and two past Connecticut races involving Weicker. In the first instance, Weicker first won his Senate seat in 1970 by positioning himself between liberal Democrat and anti-war activist Joe Duffey and incumbent Tom Dodd, a conservative Democrat who ran as an independent. In the second, Weicker (who alienated a lot of Republican loyalists with his role in the Watergate hearings and his opposition to Reagan's budget plans) lost his seat to Lieberman in '88, when Lieberman ran to Weicker's right and collected the endorsement of William Buckley, among other disgruntled conservatives. Weicker subsequently ran for governor as an independent and won.

The '70 race offers some interesting parallels, but the Republican nominee this year (Alan Schlesinger) is so weak that nothing short of a miracle would allow him to duplicate Weicker's feat. (Some cagey Connecticut Republicans are trying to force Schlesinger off the ballot and replace him with someone who can win, but it seems unlikely.) In the end, it's Lieberman vs. Lamont again, so there's not a true three-way race as there was in '70.

The '88 election is instructive, to be sure. It certainly explains why Weicker hates Lieberman so much (and why it must be sweet for him to stand by Lamont's side and extract a little revenge). But the key differences help explain why I'm so put out with Lieberman for what he's doing.

As Weicker correctly points out, he made his decision to run as an independent in a separate race, and he chose to go the independent route exclusively once he decided to run for governor. He didn't try for the Republican nomination, lose, and then run as an independent. That, to me, is the key difference. One could argue, with considerable justification, that both Weicker's and Lieberman's independent runs were ego-fueled attempts to get even with the party that abandoned them despite long and respectable careers. But Weicker went all out and took his one shot, and I respect that.

If Lieberman had had the courage to do the same, I'd respect him, too. But instead, he comes off as someone shopping for an electorate that will elect him, no matter what the cost. He's the kid on the playground who yells for a do-over after he got beat fair and square. Or, to borrow a line from the West Wing, "you're the guy who screams at the ump because you don't like the call at the plate." Running as an independent after losing the nomination, not through any sort of back-room trickery but through an honest vote, is a little too self-serving for my taste.

Listen, I believe there should be a place in the Democratic Party for the Joe Liebermans of the world. Although I personally find Lieberman to be a bit of a pious, self-righteous gasbag, I admire his integrity and his congeniality. I think Congress needs more, not fewer, politicians who are willing to work with the other side. If we drive all the moderates out of the political system, the country loses.

But we don't need moderates this badly. Not enough to justify Lieberman's electoral two-step. My advice to Lieberman: drop this independent campaign, please. If you win, both sides are going to work extra-hard to beat you next time. If you lose, you're political poison. Maybe the Republicans will let you be a kinder, gentler Zell Miller for a while, but I doubt it. Everyone will understand if you don't endorse Lamont, but let the campaign go. Fade into the shadows and lick your wounds for a while. After a year or two, write a book about what's wrong with the system. It'll sell great, I promise.

Then, once the book's out and you've established yourself as an elder statesman above mere politics, the field is open. You could become a university professor, telling old war stories like Weicker and building a generation of thoughtful, consicientious politicos-to-be. You could serve as an advisor to future presidents, Republican or Democratic, keeping them honest. You could go on lecture tours. You could even run for office again, as an independent. You could run for governor (it's hard to imagine genial Joe as a governor, but hey, surprise me). You could even run against Lamont again in six years, as an independent for real this time. Maybe you'll be over it by then, but maybe not. (Ask Weicker.)

But don't ruin your reputation, your justly-earned respect for a long and dignified career, over this. You're a good guy, and you deserve a better ending. If you don't blow it now, you'll get your chance to write one.

I'll let Weicker have the last word. It's a bit of a cheap shot, but if you stay in the race, Joe, he won't be the only one feeling this way when it's over:

There is a strong independent constituency in Connecticut, Weicker says, but "I suspect the public is going to see right through" Lieberman's party switch.

It's not the purpose of the U.S. Senate to provide Lieberman with steady employment, he says.

"He wants a job."

(P.S. If you're looking for a good source to keep up with Connecticut politics, I recommend this excellent blog. Great read, and a lot of good info.)

Posted by Mediocre Fred at August 10, 2006 02:09 PM | TrackBack

Locate it. You`ll be happy


Posted by: louise at July 12, 2007 05:47 AM
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