About Joe Lieberman?
By Raul Groom
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American English is a weird tongue, and one can spend a great
deal of time marveling at its peculiarities. Last week we
all got a sniff of a particularly unusual category of English
questions – those questions that can be answered not with
another question but with the very same question. We were
afforded this opportunity to ponder the quirks of our colonial
dialect by the sudden appearance of DLC Muppet Joseph Lieberman
on Katie Couric's political interview on NBC this morning.
Any respectable bull session on the subject of the upcoming
2004 Democratic primary race is bound to involve a mention
of Holy Joe. The discussion usually starts with a superficial
browsing through the electoral wardrobes of a couple of first-tier
candidates, continuing blandly until someone feels the need
to make a joke about Al Sharpton or handicap Dennis Kucinich's
pleasantly maniacal charge up from the most obscure depths
of the people's House.
We all laugh, unless of course we have the odd Green repatriate
or Eddie Munster fanatic among us who tries to explain why
Kucinich really could be President, in which case serious
people quickly move the conversation towards some point of
agreement, such as the question of why Dick Cheney appears
to be in a constant state of puerile, arrogant rage.
The consensus, prevalent for some time and starting to appear
prima facie reasonable, is that he gets bimonthly heart
transplants cut from the chests of men George W. Bush executes.
The symbiosis keeps Dick alive (and, of course, keeps George
on the wagon), but there are side effects to running around
in secret underground tunnels with the heart of a depraved
murderer splashing between your lungs.
If we get past all that, though, someone will eventually
ask the question.
JoeFan1 – What about Joe Lieberman?
[a beat as the degenerates wipe rum and coke off the display]
SanePerson – What about Joe Lieberman?
Neither question is a question really, but more of a ritual
obligation, like carrying the crumbs of broken communion wafers
back to the tabernacle instead of just tossing them in the
trash. It's not like they're going to be returned to Jesus
or anything, but people just don't feel right about things
unless it's done.
Alternating between whining about President Bush's slightly
objectionable undermining of U.S. "credibility" in Iraq and
braying about a planned whistle-stop tour apparently titled
Why George Bush Was Not Wrong to Oust the Evil Saddam To
Make the World Safe, so Stop Saying That, Lieberman on
today's Today was the physical embodiment of this linguistic
phenomenon – the question seems valid enough at first, but
a cursory review reveals its inherent irrelevance.
It's not hard to imagine why someone would want to vote
for Joe. He seems a nice enough guy, and too heartbreakingly
earnest in his ridiculousness to be truly corrupt. He's the
guy who feels obligated to run, because he knows he's better
than Bush but can't quite say why, for fear of offending people.
On the one hand it's admirable for Joe to be out there promising
to finally make good on Bush's own promise to restore honor
and integrity to the White House - because he could really
do it – but an experienced handicapper knows that taking even
100-1 odds on Joe at this point would be more charity than
gambling. Joe can't win, and deep down you can see that he
There is an important role to be played by such a candidate,
however - the role of gatekeeper. Just as a young boxer has
to beat up a couple of career also-rans to get a shot at the
Champ, so will any 2004 Democratic hopeful will be expected
to raise a few welts on Lieberman's hangdog mug before donning
the blue mantle and girding for battle with the Rove machine.
That's why it's OK for Joe to keep right on chugging, and
I hope he even raises a little money, in the same way that
I still root for Merciless Ray Mercer despite the fact that
his chances of ever being champion are similar to Henry Kissinger's
chances of receiving a lifetime achievement award from Amnesty
International. You can't have a race without a pace car to
slow things down when there's a little too much rubbing going
on in the straightaways.
Once we're done with the extended mixed metaphor that is
the Lieberman campaign, we can turn our attention to more
important matters. Some folks will tell you that you can't
handicap a primary this early, but these people have no sense
of adventure. The only time a race is worth handicapping
is before too much of the confused, sleepy-eyed electorate
gets wind that there's some sort of election coming up. After
that, it's merely about keeping one's finger up to feel the
wind, reading polls and talking to random idiots on the street
about which candidate is most likely to be a secret fart-huffer.
The only thing to analyze at this stage is strategy. The
tactics come later, when the money is flowing like Box-O-Wine
at a college graduation, and the candidates who are still
in it have that rheumy look in their eyes like they've been
training for a triathlon in Ecuador and sleeping on a bed
of broken glass. At that point, the candidates themselves
are secondary, reduced to second-rate commercial actors carrying
out the whims of better-rested, palefaced political people
with bad teeth and serious personality disorders. By the time
the election is close enough to call, it's all up to God and
Zogby, and maybe a handful of eccentric billionaires pulling
strings behind the scenes, just for the hell of it.
Now that Lieberman has set up shop on the musty-smelling
right edge of the Democratic encampment, he offers a great
deal of coverage to John Kerry, whose credentials as a bleeding-heart
liberal would certainly leave something to be desired in a
saner time, if such a thing has really ever existed. No one
will ouflank Lieberman to the right, though, and Kerry's people
have to be encouraged by the fact that John’s starboard side
is threatened only by a failed VP candidate who took one of
the worst screw-jobs in the history of U.S. presidential elections
Indeed, despite Howard Dean’s uppity fundraising behavior,
the smart money is all on Kerry and it isn’t moving. His team
is solid gold, and Campaign JFK has shown the ability to make
news without really saying or doing anything remarkable –
an indispensable attribute in the presidential primary race,
whose early running order is determined mostly by name recognition.
This is not to say Dean doesn’t have a shot – the path from
Governor’s Mansion to Oval Office is a well trodden one, and
men with far less business running a global superpower have
gone from Governor to Mr. President before. Some of them have
even won the presidential election, but even that’s no longer
considered a prerequisite.
Unfortunately for Dean, though, his offensive arsenal is
dwindling as Kerry quickly shores up his base on the subject
of Iraq by calling to get U.S. troops out of the Gulf before
things get really nasty. Though the promise has a whiff of
LBJ to it, it’s clearly caught the Dean people off guard,
as Howard has yet to come up with anything better than "send
more troops," a policy which is starting to look about
as politically and logistically prudent as a manned mission
to the sun. Add to that the fact that Kerry has access to
a lot more information on the subject of Bush's alleged deliberations
on the subject of war, and Dean's key weapon - Kerry's vote
in favor of the invasion - starts to look a lot more like
a Super Soaker than a Magnum.
We’re looking, then, at a two-horse race that may or may
not actually involve a second horse. The next two months will
be crucial for Dean as Kerry looks to shore up his already
solid position and the rest of the candidates frantically
plead for cash from people who are bound to know that they’re
only buying influence from a future former presidential candidate.
If Dean for America can’t find a chink in the Kerry armor,
it won’t be long until we’re hearing the phrase "What
about Howard Dean?" twice in a row, like the echo of
a dry cough in a campaign HQ after everyone has gone home.
He'll have the satisfaction of knowing he came by his seat
on the 727 to political limbo honestly, but that won't make
Howard's shrink-wrapped salisbury steak taste any better than