Upon his departure from the presidential race, Joe Lieberman was accorded editorial praise for his “sober style” and his “grace.” The Wall Street Journal attributed the failure of its favorite Democrat to his “moderation,” suggesting that Democrats were simply too rabid to accept centrist policies that might defeat George W. Bush.
But the demise of the designated candidate of the Democratic Leadership Council merits a closer look. Lieberman started out leading in the polls, enjoying both universal name recognition as Al Gore’s running mate and easy access to cash. And he got the race he wanted: Democrats, by all accounts, are voting with their heads rather than their hearts, seeking to choose someone who can beat Bush rather than someone they love.
But Lieberman and his DLC positioning failed even this test. Democrats understandably want someone who will take Bush on, not echo him. Lieberman positioned himself to the right of Bush on pre-emptive war, corporate-defined trade policies and as a scold on morals and deficits. Like the DLC, he seemed to find his voice only when assailing other Democrats. His only memorable quote was to accuse Howard Dean of being in a “spider hole” for saying, accurately, that Saddam Hussein’s capture didn’t make us any safer. (The month after Hussein’s capture featured continued US casualties in Iraq, and repeated domestic alerts and scares.)
Joe never got it. With Bush and the right mugging the country, Democrats–and independents–have neither patience nor sympathy with DLC push-off politics and triangulated positioning. They couldn’t cotton to a hairshirt Democrat who put deficit reduction above help on healthcare, and corporate free trade above jobs. And they couldn’t fathom why someone running for President spent more time sounding like a Beltway pundit carping about others’ political strategy rather than laying out where he would take the country.
Now even the artful dodgers at the DLC are embracing the “right kind of populism,” but Joe left the campaign as he ran it, warning that Democrats were “drifting towards outdated class-warfare arguments,” apparently oblivious of the Bush Administration’s assault on working and poor people. But the early withdrawal of Joe Lieberman demonstrates that Democrats have had their fill of the poisonous politics that the DLC has come to represent.