Wednesday, August 09, 2006

"Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing..."

First of all, thanks to Sally for having me. I have been a fan of Greenespace for a long time, and am honored to be able to serve as guest blogger. When she asked me to do this last week-- still in the hangover of my recent Bar Exam experience-- my immediate reaction was "no way," simply because I felt there was no way I could produce the consistent level of interesting content on this site that Sally does. It was only by convincing me to "just have some fun" with this site did I agree to give it a shot. I lack both Sally's trenchant insight and her blogging skills, so, dear readers, be patient with me. If nothing else, maybe we can have some fun together.

Ok, let's get down to business.

First of all, the blogosphere (not to mention the national news) has been abuzz with the Lieberman election and his loss to Ned Lamont. The "theme" of the coverage has been much of the same, ad nauseum: the election is a referendum on Bush's failed Iraq policy; the election definitively shows the power of the liberal netroots and the decline of the influence of the centrist DLC; and the election raises "serious questions" about what direction the Democratic Party will be heading in the years to come, yadda yadda yadda.

Given such a redundant analysis, it was refreshing to see Ryan Lizza's op-ed, which was posted this morning on the web (subscription required). Lizza, who is an editor at the "centrist" New Republic, has a pretty interesting take on the general irrelevance of the Connecticut election in the grand scheme of Democratic party politics. Lizza writes:

Some Democratic Senators will endorse Lamont this morning, but don't expect much more than a press release. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has no intention of throwing any real money at Lamont. "This race will have zero bearing on who controls the Senate after Election Day in November," says a top Democrat involved in Senate campaign strategy. "Why would we spend money defending a seat that will be blue either way? It just takes funds from important seats like Montana. It's counterproductive to the cause." The message to Lamont? If you want the seat so bad, spend your own money: "The fact of the matter is that Lamont has seven million dollars he can draw on."
This is music to the Lieberman campaign's ears. It's counting on top Democrats to change the subject quickly. "A bunch of Democrats out of obligation will endorse Lamont, and then they will disappear," says a senior Lieberman aide. "They will nominally endorse him and then head for the hills."
He seems to be right. Washington Democrats aren't interested in fighting another round with Lieberman. They are eager to turn the conversation back to Bush. They downplay the national implications of the race and are eager to move on. "We'll put the focus back on Bush," says a senior Senate aide. "You know, 'The primary was a referendum on Bush, and so Republicans have a lot to fear.'" They also reject the idea that the primary changes the Iraq debate: "Our Iraq policy has been driven by [Harry] Reid and [Carl] Levin. To be honest, they could give a rat's ass about the blogs. In other words, these are policy-based decisions, and aren't driven by the politics of Connecticut or anywhere else."

That's why Lamont's primary victory won't mean all that much after all. Expectations are everything in politics, and Lamont's small margin of victory has failed to impress the commentariat, which was ready for a blowout after seeing Lamont's gaping thirteen-point lead last week. Meanwhile, Democrats are ready to turn their attention to the races that actually matter--the ones that will help them take back Congress. Similarly, the national press--consumed with the Connecticut race during the dead month of August--will now move on to other contests.

Interesting take, and one that I suspect will prove to be quite accurate. Time will tell...

Some veteran political commentators have gone even further than Lizza, predicting that Lieberman's loss in the primary could even lead to a Lieberman victory in the general election in November, when he runs as an Independent candidate. During this debate on McLaughlin Group last week, for example, some predicted a Lieberman win as an Independent. Witness this exchange between Eleanor Clift (Newsweek), Pat Buchanan (MSNBC), Tony Blankley (Washington Times) and Mort Zuckerman (US News and World Report):

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Joe Lieberman is in an extremely tight race in Connecticut. What's going to happen there, Pat?
MR. BUCHANAN: I think Joe's going to lose the primary, and only because of his position on the war and his closeness to Bush, John, because otherwise he'd be home free.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What happens if he runs as an independent?
MS. CLIFT: Well, he could --
MR. BLANKLEY: He wins.
MS. CLIFT: Yeah, he could win.
MR. BLANKLEY: He wins handily. And he will.
MS. CLIFT: And he'll caucus with the Democrats. So in a way it'll be a Democrat seat regardless. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why doesn't Joe become -- he could win as a Republican. That's what we're saying. Could he win as an independent?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Either way he's going to win.
MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, he's going to win.
MR. BUCHANAN: I'm not sure, because I think there's going to be a change if he loses the primary.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Who thinks he will not be in his Senate seat for another six years?
MR. BUCHANAN: I'd say there's a one out of three chance he won't be.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: One out of three he won't? Otherwise everybody here thinks he will win?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: He'll win, one way or another.
MS. CLIFT: I think he's created himself a pretty golden parachute.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I'm on board on that.

Interesting predictions aside, is this the first time in the history of political punditocracy that the liberal Eleanor Clift (Newsweek) and the staunchy conservative Tony Blankley (Washington Times) have agreed on anything? Usually when they debate the "issues" on t.v. they seem ready to strangle each other or to stab each other with hidden shivs. And yet they both quietly seemed to agree that this election will wind up being much ado about nothing.

Either Lieberman wins as an "Independent" (which will be the same as if the seat were still Democratic, assuming he votes, as he did before, with his party 90% of the time). Or, as an alternative, Lamont wins as a "liberal" Democrat. Either way, does Connecticut matter that much in helping the Democrats gain control of Congress or the White House? I think not.

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