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Swiftboating Joe: A Self Interview

Q: How’s Joe (Lieberman) doing?

A: The patient is recovering.

Q: From?

A: The mugging.

Q: Ha!!!

A: He’s up in almost all the polls -- anywhere from 10% to 15%, depending upon which soothsayer you consult. But Lieberman has received a drubbing, mostly for two reasons: He was too friendly to President George Bush, universally reviled here in the “provision state;” and, in his political life, Lieberman has not been a take-no-prisoners Democrat, like John Kerry or Ted Kennedy, both unbending opponents of everything Republican. Unpopular wars have a way of bringing out the partisan in everyone. Partisanship is in these days; mutual co-operation – collegiality, as they call it in the U.S. Senate – is out.

Q: Because we are in an election?

A: No, I think the political templates have shifted. We are witnessing a change in the political culture, a hotting-up on both sides, comparable to global warming.

Q: And the change has been prompted by the war?

A: Only in part. Partisan difference rumble under the surface a long time before the lava begins to flow. You know, I would like to think that the change has been brought about by the Huey Long biography that came out thirty years or more (Huey Long, by Harry Williams), a masterwork in political writing, mostly because Long was a master in political psy-ops. Long pretty nearly invented modern politics. But I doubt that’s the cause. Americans aren’t politically literate, which is one of the reasons why they are prey to every political huckster who comes down the pike. Political Babbittry is in the air, and those who are charged with writing objectively about politics, news reporters and the like, hardly sense it at all – probably because they have been co-opted by the present system.

Q: So much for theory. Back to the facts. Why is Joe up in the polls?

A: Wait a minute. Before we let the facts run away with us … I have this theory that theories precede facts. Facts are always opened to interpretation and ours certainly is the age of interpretation. But generally, if you get the theory right, you’ll be able to interpret the facts rightly. Anyway, that’s just me.

Q: It’s the old which-comes-first-the-chicken-or-the-egg existential conundrum, isn’t it? Does existence precede essence, or is it the other way around? Anyway, we needn’t concern ourselves that that piffle. Allow me to speculate: The only reason this has come up at all is that last night you, Andrée and Jake the guide dog saw Jean Paul Sartre’s play, No Exit at Hartford Stage.

A: Haaa!!!

Q: Did you like the play?

A: One does not like Sartre; one endures him. I liked Mr. Alighieri version of Hell much better. Sartre thinks Hell is “other people;” and you would too if you had been forced to spend long periods of time with Simone DeBouvoir. For Dante, Hell is a place of just, rather than absurd, punishment. It is the place where people receive their deserved dues, which presupposes a Just Judge, who is God. That is a more satisfying vision of Hell than the one proposed by Sartre, in which human porcupines prick each other for eternity in a Hell of their own making. In Sartre’s scheme of things, there is no God. In God’s absence, Everyman must become his own god, and the God of Dante can never be more than a farcical redundancy. Of course, there are technical problems in staging The Inferno at Hartford Stage. So, we get Sartre instead. Anyway, what the hell has any of this to do with Joe Lieberman?

Q: It’s off-point, but it seems to support my view that once you begin to talk about theories, you end up in Hell.

A: Haaa!

Q: So anyway … Joe is up in the polls, and the conventional wisdom is that his opponent, Ned Lamont, did something wrong. What did he or, more properly, his retinue -- professional advertisers, paid consultants, the best paraphernalia of modern politics that millions can buy – do wrong?

A: No one knows exactly what makes Ned run, other than the usual motivator in politics – monomania. Some people suspect it may be Lowell Weicker, Lieberman’s political nemesis. Lieberman thumped Weicker some decades ago, and now “pay back” time has arrived. Ned Lamont – like Weicker, a rich political dilettante from Greenwich – is Weicker’s “long knife.” That’s a theory satisfying on several levels, but most especially because it would confirm Dante’s view of human nature…

Q: Let’s leave Dante out of this …

A: Dante should never be left out of any final human accounting. But okay. What did Lamont do wrong? I’m tempted to say that the general election has gone wrong for Lamont because the primary went right. In the primary, Lamont was addressing himself to true blue Democrats. Now, nationally, and here in Connecticut as well, there are two kinds of Democrats: Democrat Democrats, and Republican Democrats. The Democrat Democrats – the real article; they call themselves Progressives, “liberal” having become a sullied word – rule in the primaries. So, in a sense, Lieberman, a liberal Democrat apart from his views on the Iraq war, was bound to lose the primary, a theatre of political action in which Lamont was able to define himself as the “real” (progressive) Democrat. Having been turned away by his own party, Lieberman was expected to take the loss like a gentleman and wander off into the sunset with the bitten bullet in his teeth. That did not happen. Lieberman re-engaged Lamont as a petitioning candidate in a general election. But the theatre of action had changed. In the general election, the doors of the theatre were thrown open to Republicans and Independents, as well as Democrats. The audience had changed. Lamont then became a victim of his script. What did the enlarged audience see? Republicans and Independents in the audience saw thuggish bloggers beating up on Lieberman, to the cheers of progressives such as, to mention just one of the long knives, Jane Hamsher.

Q: Of Firedoglake.

A: Right. Firedoglake is a spin-off of DailyKos, one of the more popular progressive blog sites. After President Clinton’s primary visit to Connecticut, where he stumped half-heartedly for Lieberman, Ms. Hamsher, previously associated with the Hollywood film industry, ran on her site a picture of Clinton in dark sunglasses standing beside Lieberman in blackface. Apparently, the picture was a blowback from a perceived Lieberman insult. Lieberman had suggested that the appearance of the Reverends Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton at Lamont’s primary victory party would not be helpful in the general campaign he had just entered as a petitioning candidate. Commentators writing in some newspapers unfriendly to the Bush administration such as the Journal Inquirer made the same point. The re-entry of Lieberman as a petitioning candidate after Lamont’s primary victory speech – when all the progressives expected the usual concession speech on the part of the losing candidate -- was a slight not easily borne by sharp-tongued progressives. And so, we got Hampster’s blackface. It backfired, and the Lamont campaign has been backfiring ever since. Now we have a communiqué from a group of respected African American politicians in the state casting doubt on Lieberman’s early support of equality for blacks during the Martin Luther King years. Absolute nonsense. Everyone knows that’s nonsense that flys in the face of an accurate historical record. If Lieberman’s bitterest enemies wanted to drum up support for him among uninitiated Independents and Republicans – who have all but abandoned their nominated candidate, Alan Schlesinger -- they couldn’t do better than this. But the progressives, and Lamont’s handlers, seem content to spend the rest of the general election campaign preaching to the progressive choir -- probably because their internal polling may suggest that Lieberman’s support among Independents, some gung-ho Republicans, and dimly lit Democrats, is soft. The big question mark is the war. If Bush can’t hold Bagdad against the insurgents and important conservatives in his corner, Republicans may not be able to hold the House of Representatives. Here in Connecticut, Republican moderates are in trouble. The prospect of a washout of moderate Republicans from the House does not seem to trouble many conservatives. The Republican Party here in Connecticut has been reduced to – Jodi Rell, a moderate Republican whose political catchword appears to be “Let’s play ball.” No one supposes that, in the long run – or even in the short run – the Republican Party in Connecticut will win the game – or even an inning in the game.

Q: Thanks.

A: You’re welcome.


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