When I called the Lamont victory a “1968 moment” last night, I was thinking specifically of the events early in that year that led to Lyndon Johnson’s withdrawal from the race: Eugene McCarthy’s upset surge in New Hampshire, Bobby Kennedy’s entry into the primaries, and the gradual realization that the Democratic Party had decided it could no longer back its president’s war in Vietnam.
All this was an indication that 1968 was not going to be a business-as-usual year. So far, 2006 looks similar in that regard.
But now we’re hearing a different sort of 1968 analogy from some commentators: Look out, they’re saying, here come the New Left wackos and they’re going to drag the Democrats down to defeat again.
The analogy doesn’t hold at all, but it will be used with brutal effectiveness by camp Bush (Josh Marshall reports that it’s already begun), so it’s strange to hear it spun so effortfully by ostensibly liberal writers like Jacob Weisberg. But here he is in today’s Slate, complaining that “Lamont’s Victory Spells Democratic Disaster.” Why? Lamont and his crew are, Weisberg says in no uncertain terms, soft on terror.
To Weisberg, Lamont’s win means that “Democrats are poised to re-enact a version of the Vietnam-era drama that helped them lose five out six presidential elections between 1968 and the end of the Cold War.” It’s not that Lamont and his supporters aren’t basically right that Iraq is a disaster and the sooner we leave, the better; it’s that, in Weisberg’s view, “many” of “the anti-Lieberman insurgents” ” “appear not to take the wider, global battle against Islamic fanaticism seriously.”
Weisberg is unable to cite a single quotation or other fact that actually might demonstrate Lamont’s failure to take Islamic fanaticism seriously. Instead, he embarks on a lengthy historical analogy: “The party’s Vietnam-era drift away from issues of security and defense — and its association with a radical left hostile to the military and neutral in the fight between liberalism and communism — helped push a lot of Americans who didn’t much like the Vietnam War into the arms of Richard Nixon.” And by opposing Lieberman, apparently, the Democrats are once more going to alienate middle America.
I think Weisberg is simply another example of a Beltway insider who is peeved at Connecticut’s voters for rejecting one of their own. (See Marshall in Time: “Lieberman got in trouble because he let himself live in the bubble of D.C. conventional wisdom and A-list punditry. He flattered them; and they loved him back.”) As the political insiders start to fall, it looks like the journalistic insiders are going to start losing their bearings.
Anyway, Weisberg’s analogy makes little sense: In 1968 the Democrats split because their own president had failed either to win or to disengage from a stalemated war. (If it were really 1968, it’s the Republicans who should be challenging their unpopular and incompetent president today.) And Nixon didn’t win in 1968 because Americans thought the Democrats were soft on communism; he won because the best Democratic candidate was murdered, and the eventual candidate was unable to distance himself from the disastrous war.
Unlike in 1968, Democrats — except for a few Lieberman die-hards — are remarkably united. I don’t hear a lot of Democrats denying the seriousness of the al-Qaeda threat and related challenges; but a lot of us feel that the Bush administration’s failures — the very policies that Lieberman embraces — have set our side in that conflict back so far that the best we can do is clean house and reboot.
Weisberg seems less interested in fathoming the depth of voters’ anger at Lieberman than in dripping condescension upon the head of the winner of the election, who is “callow,” a “novice,” “less a fleshed-out alternative to Lieberman than a stand-in for an anti-war, anti-Bush movement.” It hardly matters that Lamont managed the extraordinary political feat of knocking off a three-term incumbent; he’s a pipsqueak upstart!
I don’t know what’s motivating Weisberg to spout such nonsense, but it’s actively harmful nonsense. In its own snotty way, it’s a bit of neo-McCarthyist baiting: no evidence, just vague charges that the other guy is a little, you know, “soft,” pink. “The 2006 Connecticut primary,” Weisberg writes, “points to the growing influence within the party of leftists unmoved by the fight against global jihad.”
Who are these fifth-column radicals? Where can we find them — in Connecticut, really? Does Weisberg have a list of names? And what do they have to do with the mainstream Democrats who decided they’d had enough of Joe Lieberman telling them not to criticize the president?
POSTSCRIPT Mark Schmitt also takes Weisberg down, notes WSJ editorial arguing that this isn’t like 1968 or even 1972 but rather 1974, when Democrats swept Congress clean.
[tags]Ned Lamont, Joe Lieberman, Democrats, 1968, Jacob Weisberg[/tags]
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