Go where, Joe?

Posted: Aug 12, 2006 12:01 AM

It's no wonder that so much time is being given to the Democratic primary in Connecticut, and that so many voices are being heard. The ideological triumphalists proclaim it a great renewal in the Democratic Party, beginning with the glorious purge of Sen. Joseph Lieberman. There are, of course, difficulties with this reading.

Most obvious is the narrowness of the victory. Lieberman lost by four points. Moreover, only 20 percent of Connecticut Democrats actually participated in the purge, which would appear to make it less than plebiscitary.

According to one poll, 30 percent of Connecticut Democrats classify themselves as "liberal." But 60 percent of the anti-Lieberman vote was done by voters who classify themselves as liberal. This figure is not surprising. Candidates who challenge incumbents are usually inflamed by a single cause, and it was always clear that Ned Lamont wanted to rescind the war in Iraq and may have been encouraged enough by the primary victory to go one step further and attempt to rescind the war on terrorism; indeed his inflation is such that he might go yet further, by attempting to rescind terrorism.

The practical question, of course, is what Lieberman should now do, detached from the formal apparatus of the Democratic Party.

If he has any thought, as he apparently does, of challenging the challengers, he will have to wait for the first credible opinion poll to weigh in. If the Quinnipiac poll (for instance) shows Lieberman substantially ahead of Lamont two months from now, the enthusiasts for Lieberman's ouster will be cold-shouldered as summer soldiers, unqualified for the long strategic fight ahead for the redefinition of the Democratic Party.

Lieberman needs here to rely on his prestige as a three-term senator, on his natural affability, which is everywhere acknowledged, and on his sense of mission in the matter of international terrorism, dramatized on Thursday with the news of the intended assaults on trans-Atlantic airplane travel. A critical problem for Lieberman is financial support. Another problem is campaign workers. Most interesting is the story that ran in the New York Sun. It points out that campaign professionals tend to be linked to one party or the other. Working for a candidate who is running as an independent could damage their careers. So Lieberman may well have to rely on his Senate staff, which is intensely loyal to him, to run much of his campaign.

Engaged in a contest of national significance, Lieberman will be contending with the well-heeled American Left, and these are big spenders. Orthodox Democrats are conventionally linked to primary winners, so that Mr. Lieberman can't count on heavy support except from wealthy Democrats who share his passion for seeing through the engagement in Iraq.

Here, the commitments of American Jews become relevant. Our venture in Iraq has no direct bearing on the safety of Israel but a huge indirect bearing on Mideast terrorism. The threat to Israel is greatly fortified by the factor of Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Palestine, and a potential Iranization of Iraq if the U.S. effort is abandoned.

What Joe Lieberman can't expect from the American Right is a relationship he has never courted. When, contending against Lamont, he declared that he was a pedigreed Democrat, he was speaking a plain truth, the Iraq question to one side. Columnist Mona Charen, contributing to a symposium in National Review Online, noted that "Lieberman jettisoned pretty much every moderate position (e.g., school choice) he'd ever taken" when he served as Al Gore's running mate in the 2000 presidential race. He is not to be viewed as potentially a Republican or conservative asset.

Which leaves support for him enlivened by gratitude for his tenacity on the terrorist question. Plus also, for those who know him, personal respect, which, in the case of this journalist, dates back 40 years, when we shared a human burden -- an obligation to an old employee of the Yale Daily News -- and had no trouble in our long colloquy as friends and fellow Americans.