"He's such a good man. I don't know why he didn't catch on," 89-year-old Marsha Lieberman told the Los Angeles Times in 2004, when it looked like her son's presidential campaign was about to flop.
A number of national Democrats and media elites now sound as baffled as Sen. Joe Lieberman's late mother, but this time they are trying to figure out why so many Connecticut Democrats are so angry with him. Lieberman is so concerned about this that he is gathering signatures to run as an Independent, should he lose the August 8th primary.
The prime explanation of Lieberman loyalists is that it is a small band of crazy lefties and irresponsible bloggers who are trying to ruin the Democratic Party and take down this wonderful principled man.
One of those who are so worried about the state of the Democrats is conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks. He wails that the campaign against Lieberman, "the most kind-hearted and well-intentioned of men," is a liberal inquisition designed to drive Scoop Jackson Democrats out of the party.
When conservatives start publicly worrying about the Democratic Party losing members, it may be a sign that the Democrats are actually onto something. (Earth to Brooks: the Scoop Democrats, with the possible exception of Jack Murtha, departed a long, long time ago.)
The reason many Connecticut voters are so upset with well-intentioned Joe Lieberman is because of his vaunted principles. They don't like them and are trying to let him and the nation know. Isn't that what primaries and elections are about? Voters get to chose candidates who will carry out policies they want.
Lieberman supported and still supports President Bush's policy on the war in Iraq, which many believe is immoral and misguided and he has an opponent, Ned Lamont, who is more in synch with the voters on this issue. Politics has become so technical and bloodless that it is hard for the pros to understand that voters can get quite passionate about issues, especially moral issues - like war and peace.
There is a huge irony about this race. In 1970, the Connecticut Democratic Party went through a similar internecine fight. Incumbent Senator Tom Dodd, a conservative, anti-communist Democrat who supported the Vietnam War and stood with an unpopular President, was so out of favor with the activists (for ethical transgressions as well as ideology) that he opted out of the Democratic primary and ran as an Independent.
The anti-war Democratic candidate, Rev. Joe Duffy, was supported by none other than Joe Lieberman, the founder of the anti-war Caucus of Connecticut Democrats, who was waging a primary challenge of his own against the Democratic State Senate Majority leader Ed Marcus.
Eventually Dodd's more liberal son, Chris, became a Senator, Lieberman beat Weicker (by running to his right in 1988) and Connecticut has been represented by Democrats in the Senate for almost 20 years.
But where the historical precedent ends is that the anti-war movement of the late sixties and seventies was viewed by many as legitimate and courageous.
In 2006, these voters and the bloggers who are giving them a voice are routinely labeled as single-issue, selfish and even vile. Their cause, to try to end a war, is cast as counterproductive and hurtful to the election of Democrats running for the House in Connecticut. But isn't it legitimate to ask why Democrats should be elected to the House or Senate if they don't try to put forward policies to put an end to a war which their constituents hate?
Lieberman, his former campaign worker Bill Clinton and most of the Washington Democratic establishment appear to be unable to fathom the passion and frustration of these "netrooters" when it comes to the war in Iraq. Mr. Clinton said last week that "we ought to be whipped if we allow our differences over what to do now over Iraq divide us."
The scarcity of 1960s-style protests against the war, says sociologist Todd Gitlin, is due to an "ambivalence about what to do, a lack of belief that protest would matter, and a lack of a counterculture that supports protest."
I would add that it is because the political leadership on the left has abdicated its responsibility to come up with coherent policy alternatives and find a path out. The passion surrounding the primary in Connecticut is over the frustration with the war and the Bush administration, and voters are resorting to the old-fashioned democratic technique of using the ballot box to make their displeasure known.
I believe that Lieberman's support for the war was and is more genuine than many of his Democratic colleagues who voted to support Bush in 2002 merely to "get the issue off the table" and avoid looking "soft on defense."
Because Lieberman uses moral values as a justification for his politics, he invites a passionate pushback on moral grounds. "Values voters" are desperate to send a message – not only to President Bush but also to the Democrats. They want the bloodshed in Iraq to end and they want their elected officials to figure a way out of this.
Maybe Joe Lieberman needs to reconnect with that Caucus of Connecticut Democrats he founded 35 years ago and try to remember his own passion against the other war. Perhaps then he will catch on to why so many present day Connecticut voters are so eager to send him a message.
By Dotty Lynch