So who brought Joe Lieberman down? Was it the liberal blogs? Was Lieberman the first political casualty of the Iraq War?
Both. But neither.
Yes, Iraq was the issue that crushed Lieberman in the Democratic party. And the blogs were the vehicle that helped that latent but pervasive disgruntlement among Connecticut Democrats become aware of itself. But Joe Lieberman succumbed to a political ailment (common to long-serving senators) that would have been as recognizable to Daniel Webster and Henry Clay as it was to so many 21st century bloggers: He got his head lost in the clouds of national politics and lost touch with his constituents.
The Lieberman camp says Joe stuck to his guns on Iraq notwithstanding the political perils or the unpopularity of the position in his party. But that doesn't quite cut it. True, he had to know he wasn't winning any points with the broad mass of Democrats around the country. And his embitterment against his party for his ignominious defeat in the 2004 presidential primaries probably made him more willing to court that displeasure. But I don't think Lieberman really understood the peril he was courting back home. Because if he had, he would have been more prepared for it. And he wasn't.
Most politicians keep close tabs on what's happening back home and work assiduously to keep lines of communications open with the political players in their states or districts. They may get into trouble for any number of reasons. But if they're good at what they do, they don't get caught off guard. And no one was more caught unawares by what happened in the last two months than Joe Lieberman.
Many pundits claim that Lieberman's defeat is a replay of the way Democrats tore themselves apart over Vietnam. It's an appealing thought for Republicans. And it has got nice drama. But those pundits are either being disingenuous or are caught in a time warp. Democrats are actually fairly united on the Iraq War in their opposition to it which is actually where most Americans are right now. And though many Senators are not as full-throated in their opposition as the base of the party, you don't see any successful challenges being made against other Senators who aren't ready to bring the troops home.
With Lieberman, there's something different. It's not just that he wouldn't wash his hands of the Iraq War. Lots of Democrats won't. It's more than that. He's seemed almost militantly indifferent to the disaster Iraq has become. And his passion about the war seemed reserved exclusively for those who questioned it rather than those who had so clearly botched the enterprise. His continual embrace of President Bush both literal and figurative was an insult to Democrats, the great majority of whom believe Bush has governed as one of the most destructive Presidents in modern American history. It's almost as though Lieberman has gone out of his way to provoke and offend Democrats on every point possible, often, seemingly, purely for the reason of provoking. Is it any wonder the guy got whacked in a party primary?
If this were just a matter of Joe Lieberman's hubris and obliviousness, the story of his demise might have a human significance but not a larger political one. But the Lieberman train wreck is also part of the unfolding story of the 2006 election cycle and the dangerous gulf widening between Washington and the country at large.
Lieberman got in trouble because he let himself live in the bubble of D.C. conventional wisdom and A-list punditry. He flattered them; and they loved him back. And as part of that club he was part of the delusion and denial that has sustained our enterprise in Iraq for the last three years. In the weeks leading up to Tuesday's primary, A-list D.C. pundits were writing columns portraying Lieberman's possible defeat as some sort of cataclysmic event that might foreshadow a dark new phase in American politics as though voters choosing new representation were on a par with abolishing the Constitution or condoning political violence. But those breathless plaints only showed how disconnected they are from what's happening in the country at large. They mirrored his disconnection from the politics of the moment.
The polls tell us the President's approval rating seldom gets out of the 30s. Congress is unpopular. Incumbents are unpopular. Voters prefer Democrats over Republicans by a margin of about 15%. When a once-popular three-term Senator gets bounced in a primary battle with a political unknown, it's a very big deal. Those numbers all add up to a political upheaval this November. The folks in D.C. see the numbers. But they haven't gotten their heads around what they mean. Joe was out of touch. And Washington, D.C., is too.
They didn't see the Joe train wreck coming and they're not ready for what's coming next either.
Joshua Micah Marshall is head of TPM Media and the founder of Talkingpointsmemo.com.