- The Washington Times - Friday, August 4, 2006

Remember Joe Lieberman? It seems only yesterday he was the toast of his party, but right now the junior senator from Connecticut is persona non grata among its upper reaches, including the editorial board of the New York Times.

Predictably enough, it endorsed his opponent in next Tuesday’s primary. After all, the senator has been a staunch supporter of the war on terror, even in Iraq. That’s just not done, not in ideologically correct quarters.

Mr. Lieberman must be feeling awfully lonely in the party that only six years ago nominated him as its candidate for vice president of the United States. (Or was that just a lovely dream?) When the unofficial organ of the American establishment endorses some previously anonymous rich guy rather than a longtime pillar of the Democratic Party, you know the pillar is shaking. And that the Democratic Party is about to come apart again, as it does from time to time.

What a pity, because Lonely Joe may be just about the last, forceful, unswerving Harry Truman/John F. Kennedy/Scoop Jackson Democrat still extant. His party has grown increasingly isolationist as this war has dragged on. And on. The senator’s unforgivable sin isn’t his rather conservative social values — he could get by with those even in Connecticut — but that he not only voted for this war in Iraq but still believes in it.

Imagine: Mr. Lieberman still thinks it was a good idea to change Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq. Even at this late date, he still speaks of “the liberation of Iraq” and says we can’t afford to lose the war there. While criticizing various aspects of the administration’s war policy (who doesn’t?) he warns that pulling out would amount to “abandoning 27 million Iraqis to 10,000 terrorists.”

No, the senator’s views aren’t very fashionable these days, certainly not in Connecticut. Or at least among its more ideologically with-it Democrats. The senator might not get a very warm welcome in some of his state’s better homes and gardens. He’d probably be as welcome as Harry Truman was toward the tail end of the Korean War, which felt as if it, too, would never end by the time he left office. (Truman’s stock with the American people really didn’t start to rise again until he was no longer president and history began to lend its usual perspective.)

It may not be his politics that so offend Mr. Lieberman’s critics these days but his principles — and his determination to stick with them. Why not trim his sails in order to win re-election? The problem, as the New York Post noted, is that he’s got “courage and character.” There you have two major political handicaps right there. And the senator may be about to pay the price for them.

If his state’s Democrats reject him in the primary, they will have completed the long process that began when the McGovernites rigged the rules to re-create the Democratic Party in their own image back in 1972. This eventually produced an electoral phenomenon still with us today: the Reagan Democrats. That’s shorthand for the vast bloc of blue-collar, often unionized, socially conservative, churchgoing, largely Catholic big-city voters who were once the keystone of the old Roosevelt coalition and who just couldn’t take McGovernism.

Even now those voters may have less in common with the New York Times’ politics than the New York Post’s, which has just endorsed Mr. Lieberman in the Connecticut primary. (The Post describes his fashionable opponent as a member of “the Michael Moore wing” of the Democratic Party.)

No wonder Bill Clinton was in Connecticut campaigning for Mr. Lieberman the other day; the former president’s centrist vision of his party’s future will suffer a definite if not decisive blow if it no longer has room for the likes of a Joe Lieberman. It’ll certainly be a blow to the remaining Democrats in the U.S. Senate if, having lost the primary, Joe Lieberman wins re-election as an independent. It has happened before. Remember Lowell Weicker?

Connecticut may be a dependably blue state but it’s not much for party loyalty, whether Republican or Democratic. Should he decide to leave his party — or rather, if his party decides to jettison him — Lonely Joe might find a lot of friends among Connecticut Republicans, probably enough to win a three-way general election in November.

Another divisive war was raging back in 1972 when George McGovern won the Democratic presidential nomination on a platform remarkably similar to antiwar sentiment today (“Come Home America”). Mr. McGovern proceeded to lose the election in one of the most lopsided verdicts in American presidential politics.

There might be a lesson somewhere in all this for those Democrats now yelling so loudly for Lonely Joe’s scalp.

Paul Greenberg is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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