August 12, 2006


What Are the Lieberman Foes For? (MATT BAI, 8/12/06, NY Times Magazine)

A few days before Joe Lieberman, who was very nearly vice president of the United States, was effectively vanquished from his party by Ned Lamont, an affable cable executive who once played a minor role in governing the town of Greenwich, Conn., I happened to talk with Jeffrey Bell. A political consultant who is as cordial a man as you will find in Washington, Bell isn't as famous as some of his fellow Republicans, but he owns a storied place in the history of the conservative movement. A young aide to Ronald Reagan during his 1976 insurgency, Bell went on to challenge a sitting Republican senator, Clifford Case of New Jersey, in 1978. He stunned the political world by winning that race. And though he lost handily to the basketball legend Bill Bradley in the general election, just two years later Reagan ascended to the White House. If anyone was in a position, then, to assess the significance of the Connecticut rebellion, it was Bell, whose small but noteworthy victory over his party's confused establishment presaged a historic political realignment. ''It's tempting for us to underrate Dailykos and,'' Bell told me, referring to the Web pioneers who launched Lamont's improbable campaign. ''It's easy for us to say these guys are nuts. But the truth is, they're on the rise, and I think they're very impressive.''

There are, in fact, some compelling parallels between this moment in Democratic politics and the one that saw the ideological cleansing of the Republican ranks three decades ago. In ''Reagan's Revolution,'' an inside account of Reagan's failed 1976 campaign, Craig Shirley notes that aides to President Gerald Ford warned that they were ''in real danger of being outorganized by a small number of highly motivated right-wing nuts.'' Those so-called nuts, meanwhile, waged war on the then widely held belief that ''if they were to succeed, Republicans had to be 'pragmatic,' they had to 'broaden the base' and they had to 'compromise.' Otherwise, they would always be in the minority.'' The very same things might be written now, substituting the words ''left'' and ''Democratic'' for ''right'' and ''Republican.'' And like those bygone Republican leaders, establishment Democrats exhibit a surprisingly shallow understanding of the uprising that now threatens to engulf them.

In the aftermath of the primary, Democrats settled on the idea that Lieberman fell because of his support for the Iraq war. This was technically true, in the same way that a 95-year-old man might technically be said to die from pneumonia; there were, to say the least, underlying causes. The war was a galvanizing issue, but Lieberman's loss was just the first major victory for a larger grass-roots movement. While that movement is identified with young, online activists, it is populated largely by exasperated and ideologically disappointed baby boomers. These are the liberals who quietly seethed as Bill Clinton worked with Republicans to reform welfare and pass free-trade agreements.

Well, except that the Conservative Revolution was a return to more traditional American themes of Jacksonianism, personal responsibility, economic freedom, etc. and, as Mr. Bai himself is explaining, the Netroot Revolution is a return to exactly the sort of '70s McGovernism that America has rejected. It was Bill Clinton's acceptance of the rejection that made him successful. There is no poolitical hay to be made on the 40% side of the eternal divide.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 12, 2006 8:12 AM

That second to last sentence is the key to the whole thing: these maniacs are middle aged.

If dealing with these people is what it was like in the 60's, thank god I missed it.

Posted by: Pepys at August 12, 2006 1:48 PM

Pepys, how missed? Where were you?

Posted by: erp at August 12, 2006 3:37 PM

They're still at 40% only because of all the people who still reflexively buy what's labeled with the Democrat® brand name, and haven't noticed that the package's contents have been changed to New Coke.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at August 12, 2006 4:16 PM

"If dealing with these people is what it was like in the 60's, thank god I missed it."

I could not possibly agree more. Thank God I wasn't alive in the 60's and 70's. Not only because of the Left though, how did you old guys survive without the amount of sports coverage that we have today?

Posted by: andrew at August 12, 2006 6:29 PM


I'm 25 years old and I've thought about that too. I grew up in Nebraska and I'm a huge college football fan: It would drive me crazy having nothing but Notre Dame games and possibly one other matchup to watch during fall Saturdays.

What precisely did people do prior to ESPN?

Posted by: Matt Murphy at August 12, 2006 11:19 PM

We all watched the same game on Saturday and could talk to each other about it since we'd shared the experience.

Posted by: oj at August 12, 2006 11:25 PM


That's what SportsCenter highlights are for.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at August 13, 2006 11:22 PM