WASHINGTON — Well, “Joementum” turned out to be “Nomentum.”
Sen. Joe Lieberman’s gracious bow out from the race made up somewhat for the uncomfortable way he made everyone feel with his post-New Hampshire denial speech, which he began by proudly announcing that “none of the pundits expected” his fifth place finish. He went on to spin his sorry showing as a “three-way tie for third.”
Tuesday night’s concession speech was better.
“The judgment of the voters is now clear,” Lieberman told supporters. “For me, it is now time to make a difficult but realistic decision. I have decided tonight to end my quest for the presidency of the United States of America. Am I disappointed? Naturally. But am I proud of what we stood for in this campaign? You bet I am.”
So how did this happen? Shouldn’t the party base have rallied around Lieberman, one half of the 2000 Democratic ticket? Wouldn’t he have been vice president if it wasn’t for the hijinx of Katherine Harris and those rascals on that right-wing cabal, sometimes known as the Supreme Court?
THE BOBBING TALKING HEADS seem to want to lay the blame for Lieberman’s defeat at Al Gore’s feet. Lieberman did get a late start waiting for Gore to make up his mind whether or not to run. And Gore’s endorsement of Howard Dean only added insult to injury. However, if polls are any indicator, Lieberman actually got a bit of a sympathy bounce out of getting screwed by Mr. Tennessee Lisp.
No, Lieberman’s woes go much deeper than Al Gore. Out on the campaign trail, I could tell he was in trouble from day one. During the summer of 2002 I went to a meeting of local Democratic activists in New Hampshire. These are the people who provide the blood, sweat and tears for candidates long before the college age volunteers show up or furnished office space is provided. They are connected, tough political types who make the behind the scenes stuff happen months before the primary is a blip on the national radar screen. It was still close to six months before Lieberman announced his candidacy, but the Democratic leadership seemed unenthusiastic about the prospect of the Joemobile riding into town.
“Lieberman is a religious fundamentalist,” one Democratic ward leader told me. “Vice president? Okay. President? No way. I don’t think he’s all that different than Bush.”
SHOW OF HANDS NOW: How many religious fundamentalists spend a good deal of time kissing the backside of pro-abortion groups like NARAL and NOW? That is how skewed things have become, but Lieberman played the role.
Here was a candidate who talked openly about religion in an increasingly secular Democratic Party. Here was a man who supported tax cuts when the party line was class war. Here was a man who trumpeted the war with Iraq as just when his party’s base was more apt to call it treason. In the near weekly Democratic debates, Lieberman seemed to think success was based on how many times the crowd booed you.
The other bad sign for Lieberman was how Republicans constantly bemoaned the way poor Joe was being waylaid by his party of radicals. It was kind of like Democrats’ persistent praise of John McCain during the 2000 primaries. Republican and Democratic voters saw where the praise was coming from, and acted accordingly.
“I offered a mainstream voice and I still believe that is the right choice and the winning choice for our party and our country,” Lieberman said during his concession speech.
Events have shown Democrats want a mainstream candidate (bye-bye Dean), but they definitely didn’t want a mainstream voice. Give credit where it’s due: The man never backed down from speaking his piece. But, judging by Lieberman’s poor showing, just about everywhere, his pragmatism didn’t work with voters. To many Democrats he came off as a Jewish George W. Bush.
Dems of the future should heed this lesson and not be so silly as to utter common sense during a primary season.
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