Mr. Johnson is a professor of history at Brooklyn College and a contributor to HNN's Cliopatria.
I just watched the post-primary speeches of Ned Lamont and Joe Lieberman following Lamont’s stunning victory in the Connecticut Democratic primary. (And it was stunning: even though he led in the last two pre-primary polls, several months ago Lamont trailed by nearly 50 points.) Lamont’s speech was effective, though with politically dubious visuals: he was flanked by Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson as he spoke. Lieberman’s address, meanwhile, was remarkably bitter, filled with denunciations of Lamont for personal attacks. The senator insisted he’d run as an independent.
If I had to bet on the race right now, however, I’d place my money on Lamont. The last candidate to win election to the Senate after losing his party’s nominating process was John Warner (Virginia, 1978), and his was a peculiar case: the party’s nominee died in an accident, and the GOP turned to Warner, the runner-up at the convention. I’m not aware of any senator since World War II who has lost his or her primary and then went on to win the race as an independent. Moreover, Lieberman has spent the last several weeks touting himself as a good Democrat—yet tonight criticized those in Washington who didn’t do enough to reach out to Republicans. In short, for a candidate whose strength has always been his honesty and integrity, Lieberman isn’t all that well-positioned.
In Georgia, meanwhile, Cynthia McKinney went out with a bang. Against a second-tier but competent challenger, county commissioner Hank Johnson, her share of the vote actually fell, from 47% in the runoff to 41% last night. Naturally, McKinney blamed a conspiracy: the first complaint of election improprieties appeared 14 minutes after the polls opened—a wild (untrue) allegation that only Johnson’s name was appearing on the ballot. And in a delicious irony, a male McKinney staffer bumped and grabbed the wrist of a female cameraperson attempting to cover the congresswoman. I suspect we’ve seen the last of McKinney; as for Lieberman, it will be interesting to see what level of support he can retain from national Democrats in the coming days.
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Ralph E. Luker - 8/21/2006
Mr. Hughes, I lament your preference for ideologically pure politics. It seems offended both by complexity and diversity. It seems scornful of both democracy and higher education. One wonders how you scaled the heights from which your contempt seems justified.
Lawrence Brooks Hughes - 8/20/2006
I think liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats weaken our system, not strengthen it. They usually become chameleons in order to facilitate their own reelections. They are people with weak convictions, or none, not the reverse. They fill offices forever, and prevent other candidates with orthodox views from being nominated. They cheat their same-party constituents out of voice. They are on the margin, and responsible for weak and ambiguous laws... They are every bit as awful as the people who make donations to both sides. --- Let me hasten to add I don't consider Joe Lieberman a conservative Democrat and spoke about his changing parties in jest. He's a 98 octane liberal, and the GOP wouldn't want him. Chafee, on the other hand, is also a 97 octane liberal, and SHOULD change parties, except that the Democrats wouldn't take him. Chafee is a bad joke, a living monument to the bovine nature of Rhode Island voters. There's got to be something wrong with the genetic makeup of that whole area, especially Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Buckley once remarked he would rather be governed by a Congress made up of the first 535 names in the Boston telephone book, than one made of the Harvard faculty. I wouldn't. That's a case of oysters 10 weeks old and oysters 20 weeks old--all rotten oysters. (Voltaire).
Oscar Chamberlain - 8/14/2006
If in caucus, you vote for someone to be a leader, you enable that person's leadership. This is true for Republicans and Democrats alike.
The Republicans in Congress from 1994 until very recently, perhaps, have been far more disciplined (in all senses of the term) than Democrats. Since 2000 particularly, the right win g of the party has been the primary beneficiary of that discipline.
In the end, by the way, I agree with you. I like a big tent. I am somewhat concerned about the Democrats. Not because Lieberman was defeated, I think he was his own worst enemy, but because some of his Democratic opponents do want to emulate the Republicans in exalting discipline over inclusiveness.
Ralph E. Luker - 8/13/2006
I don't know that Olympia Snowe (R, Maine) "enables", say, Ted Stevens (R, Alaska) any more than Ben Nelson (D, Nebraska) "enables" Ted Kennedy (D, Massachusetts). I suspect that you make the claims that you do simply because you find Stevens' positions generally far more reprehensible than Kennedy's.
Oscar Chamberlain - 8/13/2006
"Your claims about the power of the Republican right and weakness of the Democratic left wouldn't have anything to do with your being of the Left, would they?"
I don't think so. In fact, the ability of the Reupblican right to dominate their moderates has been a part of their success, a success that I regret deeply. Nor would I want to see Lieberman become a Republican, and to my knowledge he does not plan to become a Republican but would be fellow-travelling independent if he wins in November.
I have no doubt that he has chosen independence in part because he does not want to strengthen the conservative Republican leadership in the same way that moderate Republicans do.
Ralph E. Luker - 8/13/2006
Your claims about the power of the Republican right and weakness of the Democratic left wouldn't have anything to do with your being of the Left, would they? The notion that anything is improved in any way by a Lieberman move to the Republican Party is just bizarre -- it just would mean that Republican's pick up a seat and Democrats loss a seat toward organizing the next congress. The same is true in reverse about Chaffee becoming a Democrat.
Oscar Chamberlain - 8/13/2006
Big tents only moderate if the moderates have access to the leadership. Right now, the Republic leadership is fiercely conservative, so much so that even John McCain has to kiss Jerry Falwell's ring to prove that he's not one of those wimpy leftists. At the national level, no moderates can or need to apply.
(Giuliani is bit of an exception, but that's because of 9/11 and the peculiarities of NYC politics. He could only get the nomination by atracting Democrats to the primaries)
The Democratic Left has its problems (many are probably envious of the ability of the Republican right to ride herd), but it is not nearly as dominant.
Ralph E. Luker - 8/11/2006
It's probably no more than a personal opinion, Mr. Hughes, but I couldn't disagree with you more. On a meta-level, I think that the health of the republic relies very largely on both of our major political parties being very big tents. That means that I think the Republican Party is better for its inclusion of the Lincoln Chaffees and the Democratic Party is better for its inclusion of the Joe Liebermans. And may their tribes increase.
Lawrence Brooks Hughes - 8/11/2006
Lieberman probably will win, because the Republican candidate is so badly flawed and GOP voters will choose Joe.
Lieberman is quite an egotist, however, who does not deserve another term. He's had 24 years, I think, and he's not young. He tried to please both sides once too often, and it didn't work. He managed to cover both sides on the Clinton impeachment, school vouchers, and other things, but this one caught up with him. He ought to change parties, and be another Lincoln Chafee. Then he would win easily in November. And don't think it hasn't occurred to him.
Ralph E. Luker - 8/10/2006
Well, hardly, Mr. Kreuter. When have you or any other American, conservative or radical, right or left, argued that the United States ought to send troops into the Congo, where far more lives have been lost than in the whole Middle East in a comparable time-frame. Does that mean that no one, left or right, has "stripped essential human rights of their universalism"? If not, what does it mean?
Jason Blake Keuter - 8/10/2006
Now that he's running as an independent, Lieberman doesn't have to worry as much about appeasing the Democratic base in justifying his centrist positions. He should win, but only if he debates Lamont and asks for specific answers to specific policy questions. The advantage Lamont has at present is not having any policy record to defend and Lieberman's to attack. Further, there remainis the as yet unasked question as to what, exactly, as a junior Senator from Connecticut Lamont can do to realize the policy objective of getting out of Iraq.
Last, today's foiled terror plot should lead Democrats to argue that this is all the more reason to bring the troops home and focus our efforts on "terrorism". Lieberman shouldn't let Lamont get away with this. Terrorists in Iraq are terrorizing and murdering Iraqis. Lamont and the Democrats say so what? The only potential terror victims worth protecting are American. In other words, Lamont and the Democrats (and the left in general) have stripped essential human rights of their universalism in yet another betrayal of the true liberalism of a once great political party.
Michael R. Davidson - 8/9/2006
Do you see these examples, as some commentators have suggested, as a signal that there is a general feeling of anti-incumbency in voters this year? Or, rather, is this merely an illustration of the extraordinary circumstances which must be in place if an incumbent is to lose?
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