Monday, February 27, 2006

Happy Birthday Joe-A-Go-Go

The whole gang was there at the Carpenters Union Hall in Hartford's South End to wish Sen. Joe Lieberman a happy 64th birthday and to banish the ghost that for nearly a month had been haunting the Democrat Party. The ghost’s name is Ned Lamont, a Greenwich millionaire, anti-war enthusiast and possible primary opponent.

Weeks earlier, supposing some difference between the two Democrat senators on the Iraq war, the Hartford Courant began to arrange the “debate” shown on Fox News’ “Between the Lines.”

The differences between the two senators, as it turned out, were slight. Both agreed that the United States had entered the war on faulty premises, largely owing to bad intelligence and false assumptions. Weapons of mass destruction – what Aristotle might have called the proximate cause of the war – were nowhere to be found. Some have suggested that Iraqi chemical weapons had been shuttled off to Syria prior to the invasion. Others have suggested that Saddam Hussein was intent on deceiving the United Nations, Iraq’s traditional enemy Iran, and pretty nearly everyone else into thinking that he was able to dispose of weapons of mass destruction. Unfortunately for him, the ruse proved successful. When the U.S. military pried Saddam from his spider hole several years ago, he was packing no nuclear or chemical weapons, and it is not likely that questions concerning WMD’s will be answered during Saddam’s public trial. Saddam’s defense team, which includes former U.S. Attorney General Ramsay Clark, a weathered anti-Vietnam war veteran and defender of anti-American tyrants everywhere, have managed to turn the trial into a litigatory slugfest reminiscent of the New Haven Black Panther spectacles of the silly seventies.

The Dodd/Lieberman Iraq War “debate” – It was really a press conference in which both senators were asked questions submitted by reporters Shelly Sindland of Fox News and David Lightman of the Hartford Courant -- allowed both senators to strut their solidarity at a moment when Lieberman’s position on the war has been vigorously attacked by anti-war opponents in Connecticut’s Democrat Party. While Dodd acknowledged he would not have voted to approve the war had he known there were no weapons of mass destruction when he cast his vote, the senator thought an immediate withdrawal of troops would be foolhardy. He seemed during the debate to be as ardent for victory in Iraq as Lieberman or, derivatively, President George Bush, a position not likely to stand him in good stead with those in his party who want to throw Lieberman on the ash heap of history.

Meanwhile, back on the Democratic ranch, Lieberman was roping early endorsements from the shakers and movers gathering at the Carpenter’s Union Hall. Here as elsewhere, there were disagreements over the senator’s position on the Iraq war, but those differences were not determinative.

Dodd said he did not think disagreement on the issue of the war should “justify the kind of effort, expense and cost to divide a candidacy and party. I don't think that makes a lot of sense." And even the master of ceremonies, Rep. John Larson, the only member of Connecticut’s congressional delegation to have voted for an amendment requiring the administration to develop a withdrawl plan for Iraq, did not press the issue on this occasion. Larson represents Manchester and Windsor, two towns that formally censured Lieberman for his position on the war.

The line of division within the Democratic Party runs between those who wish to press a point – that a political price should be attached to Lieberman’s support of Bush’s Iraq policy – and those who wish to win an election. Arch liberals in the party are willing to press the point by supporting a primary waged by Ned Lamont. But the governing class, one eye cocked on Gov. Jodi Rell’s astounding approval ratings, is fearful that party divisions can only hurt other politicians who in the coming general election will share a party line with Lieberman. Most polls show Lieberman drawing support from Republicans, and many Democrats wish to take advantage of Lieberman’s popularity within the opposition party --which is why virtually every prominent Democrat whose name will appear on a voting line during the next election was present at the Carpenter’s Union Hall to disagree politely with Lieberman’s solidarity with Bush on the Iraq war while pledging to support his candidacy. The first rule of politics is: If you cannot win, you cannot rule.

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