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Nixonizing Lieberman

The paradigm for war protesters who believe that Bush’s war in Iraq has become a “quagmire” and a “civil war” is, of course, Vietnam. Somewhat down in the polls, anti-war candidate for the U.S. Senate Ned Lamont has decided to play his “Vietnam card.” And if Iraq is Viet Nam, there must be in the script that runs like a golden tread through the Lamont campaign a dark-jowled Tricky Dick Nixon stomping the stage with his hobnailed boots. After all, Lamont’s senatorial ideal is ex-governor and former U.S. senator Lowell Weicker, who earned his senatorial spurs by declaiming against anti-Vietnam war candidate Joe Duffey, the Democrat nominee for senator in 1970.

Democrat Sen. Tom Dodd, Sen. Chris Dodd’s father, was the petitioning candidate in that race. Weicker, a wealthy Republican candidate from Greenwich, later changed his mind about Vietnam. Weicker and his former chief aide, Tom D’Amore, are advising the Lamont campaign. The guy in the hobnailed boots, the Nixon stand-in, is present Democrat Senator Joe Lieberman, Weicker’s old nemesis.

In what has been called a “fiery” speech to students at the University of Hartford, Lamont styled a recent statement by Lieberman that he wanted to end the war in Iraq as “an election eve Nixonian declaration” and went on to explain to the students who received his remarks warmly, “It was Richard Nixon, for instance, who told the country way back in 1969, ‘I want to end the war’ and then pressed forward with Vietnam for three more years and a cost of 9,000 more American lives. Sen. Lieberman saying now, two weeks before an election, that he suddenly wants to end the war is as credible as Richard Nixon was almost 40 years ago."

On the same day Lamont addressed the University of Hartford students, his campaign released an on-line ad that paralleled statements made by Nixon on the Vietnam War with statements made by Lieberman on the Iraq war. Nixon is seen on tape saying, “An announcement of a fixed timetable for our withdrawal would completely remove any incentive for the enemy to negotiate an agreement. They would simply wait until our forces had withdrawn and then move in.” Lieberman is shown saying, “If you tell your enemy when you're going to leave, they'll wait and create disaster.” Underscoring the similarity between the two politicians, Nixon’s face is shown morphing into Lieberman’s face, a rhetorical nicety that is the equivalent of putting horns on the head of a political opponent to suggest he is communing with the devil.

It’s all a little underhanded and overdone because – Lieberman is not Nixon, the Iraq war is not the Vietnam War, and the Viet Cong are not Islamic terrorists, whose ambitions revolve around reversing the Reconquista in which Spanish monarchs ended a seven century old presence of Islamic conquerors in Europe.

It might also be mentioned, as other points of difference, that the Viet Cong did not seek to blow up buildings in New York City. They had no designs on Spain. They certainly did not wish to levy upon Sen. John Kerry of Massachussetts a punishing tax should he decline to convert to Islam. And no Viet Cong ever suggested that the senator’s lovely wife should spend her senior years wrapped modestly in a burqa. The only thing worse than failing to learn from history is learning the wrong lessons from history; in both cases one runs the risk of repeating the tragedies of history.

Retrospectively, following Kerry’s visit to Connecticut where the former anti-Vietnam war protester stumped for Lamont, it seems that the remarks at the University of Hartford and the ad showing Nixon morphing into Lieberman may have been intended as a rhetorical welcome mat for Kerry.

This late in his campaign, Lamont should not be focusing on the war in Iraq, the issue that jump started his campaign and gave him the edge over Lieberman in winning a primary. He has wrung all the juice out of that orange. Lamont needs to focus on winning independent voters, who appear to be drifting toward the Lieberman camp. They will not be reclaimed by candidates for the U.S. senate who tell them that Iraq is Vietman, that Lieberman is Nixon and that the terrorist will trouble us no more if we redeploy troops engaged in Iraq to, let’s say, Massachusetts, so that they can better keep an eye on Hezbollah cells in Kerry’s state.

Focus! Focus!

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