As for Lieberman’s hawkishness, it seemed anachronistic — and just plain odd. He supported Bush on the war more forcefully than many Republicans, justifying his refusal to criticize the president on grounds that politics should stop at the water’s edge, particularly during a war. That’s sweet, but rumors that such restraint is a respected American political tradition are greatly exaggerated. It was a lack of such restraint by Sen. George McGovern that created the latter-day Democratic Party, from which Lieberman sticks out, sore-thumb-like, today.
In 1972, McGovern transformed his party with, among other things, strict racial and gender quotas for convention delegates. He made his party antiwar, pro-abortion and thoroughly urban. He later acknowledged that things didn’t turn out as he hoped, quipping that he had opened the doors of the Democratic Party and “20 million people walked out.”
Among the emigrants were Bennett, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Paul Wolfowitz and other once-Democratic hawks that grew weary of a party that always “blamed America first,” as Kirkpatrick put it. When the neocons and the other 19.99 million people left McGovern’s party, Lieberman hung around. He was tolerated as exotic, and trotted out to win over swing voters and moderate Republicans.
Today, the Democratic Party is, simply, a McGovernite party. That is where the passion and the money are. But, nedrenaline addicts beware: That is not necessarily where the voters are. If the Connecticut contest was a referendum on the war, as many claim, it should tell us something that 48 percent of voters supported Lieberman. But obviously, the election wasn’t solely a referendum on the war because there’s no way 48 percent of Connecticut Democrats are pro-war.
What Lieberman’s showing really reveals are the limits of the supposedly “people-powered movement” behind Lamont. According to initial reports, Lieberman was strongest in Connecticut’s vestigial blue-collar areas. Lamont, a multimillionaire limousine liberal, represents the modern McGovernite rank-and-file of the Democratic Party. His most ardent supporters are more likely to carry a laptop than a lunch bucket, and they are still inclined to blame America first.
Though Lieberman may — and probably will be — re-elected as an independent, it’s sad news that he’s a pariah in his own party. But it’s hardly surprising.