WASHINGTON -- All candidates for a party's presidential nomination should be Orthodox Jews, at least while campaigning. They would all have a duty, as Joseph Lieberman does, to repair to their hearths from sundown Friday until sundown Saturday, for a needed respite from the physical and moral wear-and-tear of incessant pandering to the party's most ideologically demanding cadre, its nominating electorate.
Actually, Lieberman needs this respite less than his rivals because he panders less, having a long record of centrism at the national level. That is his perhaps insurmountable problem.
A comparison with Sen. Scoop Jackson in 1976 is imperfect but instructive. Jackson's strong stands on national security issues were unpalatable to the party that four years earlier had nominated George McGovern. Today, the Democratic base is in a similar distemper that Howard Dean's campaigning is deepening.
This distemper -- President Bush is as bad as it is possible to be, and Attorney General Ashcroft is worse -- calls to mind an exasperated Englishman's characterization of the Irish as people who ``do not gladly suffer common sense.'' To much of the Democrats' activist cadre, this, from Lieberman in the recent debate in New Mexico, is insufferable: ``I believe that the war against Saddam was right, and that the world is safer with him gone.'' Never mind that most of the country agrees with that.
Dean has been the Democrats' flavor of the month for many months. Initially he got abundant media coverage, the theme of which was how difficult it was for a small-state former governor, supposedly the political equivalent of a country church mouse, to get coverage. Now he gets abundant coverage partly because he says so many overripe things, such as this: ``John Ashcroft is a descendant of Joseph McCarthy.'' That is distilled Deanism: It couples two of the Democratic left's fright figures in one sentence that, considered calmly, as the Democratic left is unlikely to do, is not so much false as unintelligible.
Lieberman's wager is that he can finish no higher than third in Iowa and New Hampshire and still be nominated. He says ``my opportunity'' is the cluster of seven events the week after New Hampshire. His task is to be the -- definite article, the -- alternative. That means being the last man, besides Dean, standing after Iowa and New Hampshire.