Man Without Qualities

Monday, December 16, 2002

The Besotted

Some in the media are besotted with the prospect of Senator Joseph Lieberman running for President. Where Will Lester at Associated Press provides a down-to-earth take on the Senator's near-declaration occasioned by Al Gore's decision not to run, Ryan Lizza at the The New Republic, clearly one of the besotted, trills this troubadour song [link via Kausfiles]:

As for the actual Democratic field, Joe Lieberman is obviously the biggest winner. The scene from SNL of Gore handing Lieberman the winning rose turned out to be prescient. It's not just that Gore decided not to run, freeing Lieberman to enter the race. He also made the announcement weeks earlier than anyone assumed he would. The next two months are crucial for recruiting staff and locking up donors. "This is a huge gift to Lieberman," says one Democratic strategist. "If [Gore] did it the first or second week of January, Lieberman would have to scramble to put everything together. This allows Joe Lieberman to be like all the other candidates." And since Lieberman will now enter the race, the media spotlight will quickly turn from Gore's announcement to Lieberman's. The story of Lieberman's campaign will begin with the fact, already being mentioned by his supporters, that the candidate made a promise and stuck to it.

Senator Lieberman "made a promise and stuck to it?" That qualifies a man to be President? Or is even particularly significant? I suppose it is better than compromising many - if not most - of one's signature positions in the name of political expediency and the campaign, as Senator Lieberman did in 2000. Vouchers anyone? And I suppose it's better than holding one's self out as an Orthodox Jew for years and repeatedly claiming that Orthodoxy was central to one's identity, only to just chuck the whole thing ("Orthodox?" Did I say "Orthodox?" I meant "Observant.") when it becomes inconvenient and too many questions are raised about Sabbath campaigning and the like.

More importantly, the besotted class might spend some time considering that Senator Lieberman was chosen and significant in 2000 as an antidote to the Lewinski scandal. Unless the Democratic Party has a general voter problem with personal morality, Senator Lieberman's ecological niche is gone. Nor did Senator Lieberman perform well during the 2000 campaign. His campaigning became a tuneless drone. Al Gore did much better in debate against George Bush than Senator Lieberman did against Mr. Cheney. In fact, the debate with Dick Cheney was a disaster for the Democrat where, for example, a post-debate a Field Poll of voters in Democrat-leaning California found:

"By a 42% to 27% margin voters in this state felt that Cheney made the better overall impression during the debate. Pluralities of Californians also felt Cheney seemed better able to take over as President in an emergency, was more self-confident and was better able to defend himself and his positions than Lieberman."

Nor is Senator Lieberman, a Northeasterner, likely to appeal to the South, Midwest or West as much as Mr. Gore did. And, since the election, Senator Lieberman has reasserted most of those signature positions he abandoned during the campaign. Do they just get chucked again now that he's again running for national office?

No. The Republicans just haven't been good enough to deserve Senator Lieberman as the Democratic candidate.

Could the Senator siphon off a significant amount of contributor money from others who might be actually viable candidates? If Ryan Lizza says the Senator can attract money, I'm prepared to believe that is possible. The drain would almost certainly further weaken the Democratic effort, just as the naive obsession among some in the media with the prospect to his candidacy will mostly harm other Democrats by comparison.

But both effects should be small since Senator Lieberman comes with no indicia that he will survive even the first cut.

UPDATE: Senator Lieberman continues to show how weak he can be in the clutch, as with this assertion about Senator Lott [link from Crooow Blog]:

Lieberman ... insisted the Lott transgression was “more consequential” because he was speaking “as a person in line to the presidency.” The Senate Majority Leader is not on any succession list.

It is the President Pro Tem of the Senate (that is, the senior Senator of the majority party - formerly ex-KKK member and Democrat Robert Byrd) who is in line for the Presidency - not the Senate Majority Leader.

In other words: Senator Liberman is spectacularly ignorant of the structure of the Senate in which he has served many years.

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