Sunday, October 29, 2006

BBC Commentary in Connecticut

When the British writer G. K. Chesterton on his American tour found himself besieged by a gang of reporters in a hotel in New England, he immediately proclaimed himself an amiable anarchist of the Henry David Thoueau variety – “That government governs best that governs not at all.” And then he was asked what form of government he thought the best. “A republic,” he boomed. “This hotel would make a fine republic.”

Sometimes it takes a foreign eye to confirm for us what is best in us. The BBC crew, now in Connecticut reporting on the state election that pits Joe Lieberman against Ned Lamont in a hard fought U.S. Senate race, has performed a like service for us.

Bearing in mind Oscar Wilde’s quip that the United States and Britain are two nations separated by a common language, the questions and the commentary on the BBC site, "Up All Night," are excellent. It’s easier to adjust to the subtleties on the spot, which is why Rhod Sharp, part of the BBC crew, leapt the pond to be here. (As an aside, I may say that the BBC interviewers have cleverly wormed their way into the hearts of Americans -- BECAUSE THEY LIKE BARS.) We in Connecticut must live with the consequences of our votes; people in Europe need only laugh at them.

One of the subtleties involves an understanding of the difference between a primary and a general election. The audiences are different in both cases. Primaries are party elections to which opposition party voters and independents are not invited. Ned Lamont won the Democrat primary because his message resonated with the shakers and movers of the Democrat Party in Connecticut. Opposition to the war was the principle driver in the primary. Wars are not popular in what used to be called “the provision state,” so called because the state was known for providing munitions to the U.S. military. In the BBC broadcast on Connecticut's election, Lieberman spoke eloquently to this tradition.

As everyone interested in Connecticut’s race must know by now, Lamont won the primary, and much fun was had at Lieberman's expense by bloggers committed to Lamont.

In a general election, narrow party interests are expanded because the voting field is open to moderates and Republicans. The message that resonates with the first audience may alienate the larger audience, as appears to be the case in this instance.

Some claims made by the Lamont side were patently outrageous. Connecticut does not like political manipulation, and most people in the state have an ear for authenticity. Lieberman, however conspicuous his warts, is a polished performer and a decent man. There is no question that solid Democrats of a liberal persuasion have lined up on Lamont’s side of the barricade. These are the Democrats that ousted him in the primary.

They may not have the last word.

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