Tuesday, October 10, 2006

When Experience Means Catastrophe & Deception


For release Tuesday, October 10, 2006




Advertising's old principle is said to be to find the product's worst feature and then promote the heck out of it as if it is the best feature. This seems to be working for Joe Lieberman and Rob Simmons.

Lieberman, seeking a fourth term in the Senate as an independent candidate after losing the Democratic primary to Greenwich businessman Ned Lamont, has radio and television commercials disparaging the challenger for a lack of experience in office. Simmons, the three-term Republican U.S. representative from the 2nd District, has commercials disparaging his Democratic challenger, former state Rep. Joseph D. Courtney, for lacking experience with the military and military contracting.

What Lieberman and Simmons mean about experience is that, unlike themselves, Lamont and Courtney haven't been around long enough yet to know how to get the country into a catastrophic war by deception and mistake. Members of Congress have to know stuff like that.

At least Lieberman seems likely to get away with it. The latest Quinnipiac University poll puts him 10 points ahead of Lamont, and a Zogby poll, though far less reliable, puts him 20 points ahead. Why?

It is partly because Iraq is being trumped by the theme Lieberman was forced to adopt when he lost the primary -- bipartisanship. While the Q poll found that Iraq is the biggest issue for 35 percent of voters, it also found that 76 percent consider it "very important" for a senator to have the ability "to reach across party lines to get things done in Washington." (After all, without such bipartisanship there might be no mistaken wars.)

While Lieberman makes much of his ability to "reach across the aisle," lately, as was reported the other day by Washington columnist Robert Novak, Lieberman has been reaching across the aisle to pick up big campaign contributions from corporation lobbyists close to the Bush administration.

But Lamont's failure has been much more than Lieberman's success. For Lamont has continued to run against Lieberman as if they were still competing in the Democratic primary, trying to out-liberal each other. Lamont deserves great credit for confronting Lieberman on the war and his loss of touch with Connecticut after a long tour on the national stage. But the challenger seems to have had no political sense since making the race huckster Al Sharpton the star of the last week of his primary campaign and putting Sharpton right next to him for his Primary Night victory speech.

Until recently Lamont was broadcasting commercials denouncing Lieberman for being a "turncoat" to the Democratic Party, as if Lamont didn't already have the votes of most of those who cared about that. Last week Lamont had Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy campaign for him, as if Kennedy isn't the very caricature of failed liberalism -- slow, bloated, and hackneyed -- and a darling only to those already supporting the challenger.

To get to the Senate in 1988 Lieberman accomplished the same great feat Lamont is attempting. That is, Lieberman defeated an incumbent, Lowell P. Weicker Jr., and he did it by attacking from the right and center as well as from the left, tactics Weicker's previous challengers could never bring themselves to adopt.

Lamont seems to have made himself a similarly happy prisoner of the left, even though there are compelling conservative arguments against the war in Iraq and against most everything else wrong with government, not just the self-righteous, politically correct, and sometimes even hateful arguments of the left. But Lamont hasn't attempted such arguments in his mass appeals, even though it is clear at his campaign appearances that he knows some of them.

There also seems to be a personal element in Lamont's weakness. The Q poll found that the challenger's unfavorability rating with the public is higher than Lieberman's, 28 to 24 percent. This is remarkable, since Lieberman has been in politics for almost 40 years while the challenger burst on the scene only a few months ago. Something about Lamont or his campaign rubs many people the wrong way, though they hardly know him.

Maybe it is the candidate's stridency or his talking too fast. Maybe it is people around him. Maybe it is that some voters are more offended by a candidate who can finance his own campaign than they are offended by a candidate who seeks out special-interest contributions or by a mistaken failure of a war in which thousands of U.S. soldiers have died, as well as tens of thousands of innocent civilians.

Whatever it is, after being hugely complicit in the Iraq disaster, neglectful of his constituency, and so incompetent politically that he could not win renomination against an unknown, Lieberman seems to be on the verge of returning to Washington as a conquering hero.


Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, Conn.


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