Screw Lieberman?

Markos Moulitsas Zuniga rightfully gloats over last night’s victory by Ned Lamont over Joe Lieberman. While it has seemed inevitable for a few weeks now, it wasn’t long ago that it seemed unthinkable. Indeed, many of us were chuckling over Kos’ appearance in a Lamont television ad and making fun of the netroots for whooping over forcing a primary when Lieberman won 1,004 of the 1,509 votes cast at the state convention, while Lamont won 505.

Kos says, “This is what people-power looks like, and it is changing the face of politics.” There can’t be much doubt about that at this point. While Lieberman’s popularity in the state is much lower than I could have fathomed until I visited last month, knocking off the guy who was the vice presidential nominee on a ticket that won the plurality of the national vote six years ago is a remarkable achievement. I continue to believe that it’s tactically stupid, but then my goals are different than Kos’.

I have similar thoughts about Kos’ response to Lieberman’s announcement he’ll now run as an independent:

Now, Lieberman wants to stab his allies and his party in the back. It won’t be the first time.

Here’s what we all need to do the next few days:

1. Push Harry Reid to strip Lieberman of all committee assignments.

2. Let people know what a sore loser Lieberman is.

3. Get all Democrats — including Bill Clinton — to publicly back Ned Lamont.

4. Get the Democratic interest groups who backed Lieberman to switch allegiances in the general.

My take?

1. Stripping Lieberman of his committee assignments would be amazingly stupid, in my view. It would simultaneously screw over the people of Connecticut for the remainder of this Congress and ensure that Lieberman would not caucus with the Democrats come 2007 should he win re-election. Given the dynamics of this election, where a single Senator could mean the difference between Democrats regaining power or the Republicans holding on, that’s a mighty big risk that has no upside other than childish revenge.

And revenge for what, pray tell? While I would have thought it more kosher for Lieberman to have withdrawn from the Democratic primary weeks ago, when his defeat seemed inevitable, it’s nonetheless the case that he gave his party a chance to prove its loyalty to him after a lifetime of service. They spurned him for a political newcomer. Why, then, does Lieberman owe them anything?

2. I think there are some vintage t-shirts, caps, and buttons available cheap. Why not?

This should be done by the netroots and the Lamont campaign, however, not the Senate Democratic leadership. See above.

3. Bill Clinton, at least, will do what seems most expedient at the moment. If the polls tell him Lamont will win, he’ll do that. If the polls tell him Lieberman will win, he’ll stick with him. Most Democrats with presidential aspirations will likely follow suit.

4. Ditto. With a handful of exceptions, there are no “Democratic interest groups,” only interest groups that typically align themselves with the Democrats because that’s where their support lies. Those who have gotten support from Lieberman in the past–which is to say, most Democrat-leaning interest groups–are not going to risk alienating him in pursuit of ideological purity.



Man, that’s a lot of blogging on one Senate primary contest!

FILED UNDER: 2006 Election, Congress, Political Theory, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Rick DeMent says:

    Bill Clinton, at least, will do what seems most expedient at the moment.

    You say this as if there is another US politician, of either party, on the planet who would do otherwise.

  2. James Joyner says:


    That’s why I follow with “Most Democrats with presidential aspirations will likely follow suit.”

    There are politicos who don’t do that. Arguably, Lieberman is one of them. Tom Coburn in Oklahoma is another. But those guys are rare, indeed.

  3. walter66 says:

    “Bill Clinton, at least, will do what seems most expedient at the moment.”

    the Clinton’s will do exactly what AIPAC tells them to do

  4. Kos is starting to remind me of the warden in The Longest Yard. It isn’t enough for his candidate to win, his opponents have to lose and then be humiliated and destroyed to remind everyone who’s in charge.

  5. legion says:

    I’m not familiar with the arcane rules of committees and caucuses (caucusi?)… But if Lieberman runs as some flavor of independant, doesn’t he have to leave the Democrat party first? Doesn’t that force at least something like what Kos is calling for in #1?

    And this isn’t about being a ‘sore winner’. This is about the _exact same_ sort of party loyalty that has kept the GOP strong in Congress for the last years… How is what Kos is calling for any different from the sort of discipline Rove, et al have forced on the GOP members?

  6. James Joyner says:


    That sort of “discipline” cost the GOP control of the Senate in 2001, when Jumpin’ Jim Jeffords took his ball and went home. And they have learned their lesson, allowing the likes of Arlen Specter and Olympia Snowe to have important committee chairmanships.

    As to the rules, I honestly don’t know. Presumably, one can call onesself a “Democrat” in the Senate while calling onesself an “Independent” (or whatever party line he chooses to run on) on a ballot. Indeed, my understanding is that Lieberman is running as an Independent in Name Only (IINO?)already pledging to caucus with the Dems. That could certainly change, though, if the party leadership got stupid.

  7. Michael says:

    I think Kos’s intention with stripping Lieberman of his chairman positions was to deny him the ability to campaign on being in a position to help CT, like he did in his primary. Sure it would hurt CT, because Lamont surely won’t get a chairmanship in his first year, but Kos isn’t looking out for what is best for CT, is he? He’s doing what he thinks is best for his party, which he believes to be Lamont.

    The point of #3 is somewhat the same, push for party unity behind the party’s nominee to deny Lieberman the ability to campaign on the support of party leaders, again like he did in his primary. The same goes for #4, deny Lieberman the use of special interest and labor endorsements.

    Basically Kos is advocating cutting Lieberman’s independent run off at the knees as early as possible, probably to force him to withdraw, so Lamont can focus on his GOP competitor.

  8. legion says:

    True, but there can be a large gulf between the tactics needed to _gain_ power versus those needed to _maintain_ power…

    And as for committee assignments, I suppose the leadership can appoint whomever they like, but putting a guy with an (I) after his name in position over possibly-more-senior (D)s would seem like begging for a mutiny.

  9. James Joyner says:

    legion: Maybe. Then again, Jeffords managed to keep his committee assignments.

  10. Pug says:

    With the exception of #1, I think all those things listed will happen.

    Quite a few Lieberman supporters, mostly Republican, think he is some kind of shoo-in for the general election. I think they are overlooking the dynamics of party politics. Bill Clinton (and Hillary) will support the Democratic nominee, expedient or not. They really have no choice. All the Democrats will support Lamont from Harry Reid to the congressional and gubernatorial nominees.

    Lieberman will have a lot more trouble raising money from traditional Democrats and will have to rely on special interests, mostly Republican. As it becomes more clear that Lieberman is running mainly with Republican support, Democratic voters will peel off and support Lamont. This becomes partly self-fulfilling because Lieberman now needs to appeal to Republican voters, too, and his anemic attempts to bash George W. Bush won’t sell in that market.

    None of this even takes into account that prominent Democrats are going to begin calling on Joe to withdraw, some publicly and some privately, and that he looks like a hell of a sore loser and all losers have the stench of defeat about them. If Lamont’s campaign is smart enough to be gracious, praise Lieberman and invite his voters to back the party’s nominee, Joe will look increasingly bad. They are smart enough to do that. Joe, meanwhile, goes on Good Morning America and smears the Democrats who voted against him. Like I said, looking increasingly bad.

    Joe is doomed.

  11. floyd says:

    the democrat strategy for 2008 is clear; SHEEHAN/MOORE. yes!!! that’s the ticket! hey! at least they make a HANDSOME couple! don’t ya think? and they are, after all, the democrat brain trust!