Saturday, August 12, 2006

Lamont over Lieberman

Jon Stewart set up the significance of Ned Lamont’s win in the August 8 Democratic primary when he cited the example of Gary Condit, the former Democratic Congressman who was the subject of endless hours of cable news coverage in the summer of 2001 after his intern, Chandra Levy, went missing.

He said: "Incumbency is a powerful weapon in electoral politics. You will remember Gary Condit, admitted an affair, was under suspicion for maybe even killing his intern. Still considered running for re-election". You can see the whole video here.

That is the American reality. Incumbents just don’t lose their own party’s renomination, especially those who six years earlier had run for vice-president. There can be only one explanation: Americans are simply fed up with the Iraq war. Even those who remained loyal to Joe Lieberman in the primary were anti-war. An exit poll by CBS News found that for 43% of Lamont’s primary voters cited the Iraq war as the main reason for supporting him and an additional 24% said it was because he would oppose Bush, while most Lieberman voters supported him for his experience, personal qualities or issues other than Iraq. Among all primary voters, 78% disapproved of the decision to go to war in Iraq. As noted, even a majority of Lieberman’s supporters agreed with Lamont on the issue.

The best writing on this successful insurgency was by Josh Marshall in Time Magazine. Here is an excerpt:

"Lieberman got in trouble because he let himself live in the bubble of D.C. conventional wisdom and A-list punditry. He flattered them; and they loved him back. And as part of that club he was part of the delusion and denial that has sustained our enterprise in Iraq for the last three years. In the weeks leading up to Tuesday's primary, A-list D.C. pundits were writing columns portraying Lieberman's possible defeat as some sort of cataclysmic event that might foreshadow a dark new phase in American politics — as though voters choosing new representation were on a par with abolishing the Constitution or condoning political violence. But those breathless plaints only showed how disconnected they are from what's happening in the country at large. They mirrored his disconnection from the politics of the moment.

The polls tell us the President's approval rating seldom gets out of the 30s. Congress is unpopular. Incumbents are unpopular. Voters prefer Democrats over Republicans by a margin of about 15%. When a once-popular three-term Senator gets bounced in a primary battle with a political unknown, it's a very big deal. Those numbers all add up to a political upheaval this November. The folks in D.C. see the numbers. But they haven't gotten their heads around what they mean. Joe was out of touch. And Washington, D.C., is too.

They didn't see the Joe train wreck coming and they're not ready for what's coming next either."

An earthquake is beginning in American politics the full dimensions of which are not clear.
I think that not only the Iraq War and its unpopularity, but also the Bush administration's mishandling of the war in Lebanon, will likely have a disastrous impact on Republican fortunes. The middle east conflicts strongly contribute to an overall sense that things just are not going well.

It is going to be a Democratic year, the only question is how big their gains will be. The experience of the last upheaval in 1994 tells us that there is a tendency to underestimate just how far things will go.

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