"Joe, why are you doing this?"
That is a question Joe Lieberman will hear again and again from old friends, as he mounts his "independent" campaign for the Senate seat his own party voted on Tuesday to take away from him.
And there is no compelling answer Joe can give.
Joe insists he's a progressive Democrat in the mainstream of the party and has a voting record to prove it. But Ned Lamont is a progressive (i.e., liberal) Democrat, and the Connecticut party chose him as its Senate nominee, not Joe.
Joe could say Iraq is the dividing line and the critical issue facing America. But Tuesday's primary was a referendum on Iraq, and the Connecticut Democratic Party voted to declare itself antiwar. And Joe does not even intend to run as a war Democrat in November. For he knows it would drive away an even larger share of the Democratic and independent vote than he lost on Tuesday.
But if he will not run as a principled pro-war senator, what, then, is the argument for re-electing Joe? For the transparent conclusion is that his independent campaign is simply about Joe's unwillingness to accept the verdict of his party and give up his cherished Senate seat.
Thus we find Joe declaring, in his concession speech where he announced his independent candidacy, that the true great divide between him and Ned Lamont is on the burning issue of -- civility in politics.
"I am, of course, disappointed by the results," said Joe. "I'm disappointed not just because I lost, but because the old politics of partisan polarization won today. For the sake of our state, our country and my party, I cannot and will not let that result stand."
Joe is running to save Connecticut and America from the savage politics of Ned Lamont?
Joe is a nice and decent man, with many friends across this town, but this is just not sustainable.
First, it is a slur on the Democratic Party of Joe's home state, which bought into Lamont's supposedly low-road tactics. Second, to strip votes from Lamont on the issue of his "politics of partisan polarization," Joe will have to rip into the Democratic nominee for running a dirty and divisive campaign, which is certain to enrage all the Democrats working to elect Lamont.
Third, Lamont is a "Pepperidge Farm" candidate, in the witty phrase of columnist Mike Barnacle. He did not call Joe a warmonger or a fascist, or run Willie Horton ads against him.
Fourth, if Lamont won only by McCarthyite tactics, how does Joe explain why every national and state Democrat -- including Bill and Hillary Clinton and Al Gore -- is hastening to endorse Lamont?
What are the real reasons behind Joe's defeat? Like J. William Fulbright of Arkansas, dumped in a 1974 primary, a senator must beware of becoming so taken with his stature as a statesmen that he loses touch with the home folks. Second, pro-war and pro-Bush Democrats are an endangered species in deep blue states.
This is good news for Gore, an authentic antiwar Democrat and Mr. Global Warming, who will open with a pair of aces, if he enters the primaries. John Kerry and John Edwards have already defected to the antiwar camp. And Hillary's scourging of Don Rumsfeld and call for his resignation suggest the Clintons are not missing any signals.
But this week has also provided a glimpse into the character and convictions of our neo-conservatives, who claim direct descent from Ronald Reagan. In a lead editorial, The Weekly Standard called on Bush to fire Rumsfeld and make Joe Lieberman secretary of defense. And the Pentagon is only to be a stepping stone.
Rhapsodizes editor William Kristol, "Is it too fanciful to speculate about a 2008 ticket of McCain-Lieberman, or Guiliani-Lieberman ... ?"
In short, The Weekly Standard wishes to see, on a Republican ticket and a heartbeat away from the presidency, a proud liberal Democrat who supports partial-birth abortion, embryonic stem-cell research, gay rights, affirmative action, reparations for slavery, gun control, higher taxes on the top 2 percent, distribution of condoms in public schools and driver's licenses for illegal aliens.
What does Joe oppose? School prayer, the American Legion's flag amendment, Sam Alito, drilling in the ANWAR and any phase-out of death taxes.
Last year, Joe's rating by Americans for Democratic Action was 80. The ACLU gave him an 83, the NAACP an 85, the AFL-CIO a 92, LULAC a perfect 100. In 2004, Joe got a 100 rating from the National Abortion Rights Action League and a zero from National Right to Life. His American Conservative Union rating was zero. His Christian Coalition rating was zero. The National Rifle Association, which grades by letters, gave Joe a big, fat "F."
But as long as you support war in Lebanon, war in Iraq and a "war-fighting Republican Party," in The Weekly Standard's phrase, you get a pass on everything else. Beat the drum for permanent war for global democracy and against Islamo-fascism, and all other sins are forgiven you.
Such is the state of conservatism, 2006