William F. Buckley

Eyes do not wander from the primary race in Connecticut, kicked off by a debate between the incumbent, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, and the challenger, Ned Lamont. Commenting on the race, David Brooks, a seer and a columnist for The New York Times, has ventured that it foretells what may be a remarkable divide. If Lamont beats Lieberman, the message to voters across the United States will be that the Democratic tent is on an exclusivist roll. None may feel at home in it who tolerated, let alone encouraged, the war in Iraq over which President Bush has presided.

It challenges the imagination to wonder productively what will be the political declamations at the Democratic convention in 2008 if the Democrats are to be the party that kicked out sitting Sen. Joe Lieberman six years after he was named their vice presidential candidate, notwithstanding that 90 percent of his Senate votes have been with his party, opposing President Bush.

A close study of the transcript of the July 6 encounter brings to mind the sad state of debate between candidates of the same party. Here they were, together for one hour, and divided, really, on only the single issue of whether our military venture in Iraq (a) should be terminated by a fixed schedule, and (b) was worthwhile to begin with. The challenger, Lamont, didn't spend much time on how we should never have gotten into Iraq to begin with. This was so because manifestly he didn't want to appear a statue of indifference while Lieberman went on about life under Saddam Hussein.

Lamont's refrain is about getting out, not about how we should not have got in. In 1972, the Democrats were in terrible shape. The Vietnam War was visibly just about done, but retrospective regret that it had ever been undertaken could not be expressed except as regret that Lyndon Johnson had been president of the United States during the years in which the pursuit of a free Vietnam had been U.S. policy. What happened politically was a Republican victory in 49 states. If Ned Lamont succeeds in discharging Joe Lieberman as an unacceptable Democrat, voters by the millions will think of themselves as disfranchised.

When Lieberman got into his peroration at the debate, he said about himself what a debate coach might have counseled him to say. He gave evidence of his institutional qualifications to continue in office. Look who has supported me!

William F. Buckley

William F. Buckley, Jr. is editor-at-large of National Review, the prolific author of Miles Gone By: A Literary Autobiography.

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