Democrats lost the 2004 presidential election over leadership on national security. Tuesday night's win by anti-war Ned Lamont over pro-war Joe Lieberman, while joyous for the far-left netroots crowd, is a bad harbinger for future Democratic Party prospects nationally in 2008 and beyond.
The closeness of the election only makes the outcome more frustrating for Democratic strategists. Had Lieberman eked out a victory, the Connecticut Senate primary would have been a huge win for the Democratic Party as they would have been able to reap the dividends of all the energy (and voters) Lamont's candidacy had attracted, while at the same time sending a message to the country that the Democratic Party is large enough for pro-war Democrats.
Had Lieberman held on and won, he undoubtedly would be reaching out to left-wing Democrats and pushing further away from President Bush and the Republicans. Instead, Lieberman will now be ostracized from the party and will be reaching out to independents and Republicans while chastising the extremists in the Democratic Party.
Incredibly, for a sitting three-term senator who just lost to a political neophyte, in many ways Lieberman is the guy who comes out of the primary with momentum. A month ago it was not unreasonable to assume that Lamont would have received a significant boost from a win, but the polls seem to indicate Lamont peaked near the end of July. Bill Clinton's July 24th visit may have been more of a turning point than was commonly thought at the time. In my pre-election analysis I suggested that Lieberman's distance from 40 percent would be the best tell on how the three-way would shakeout. With his very solid 48.2 percent, Lieberman is in an extremely strong position to win in November.
Nationally, the images from last night are a disaster for the Democratic Party. Perched behind Lamont during his victory speech were the Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, grinning ear to ear, serenaded by the chant of "Bring Them Home, Bring Them Home." For a party that has a profound public relations and substantive problem on national security, these are not exactly the images you want broadcast to the nation.
Anti-war Democrats and much of the mainstream media continue to confuse anti-war with anti-lose. The incessant commentary that 2/3rd of the country is against the war completely misreads the American public, as much of the negativity towards the war isn't because we are fighting, but rather a growing feeling that we are not fighting to win or not fighting smart.
Democrats went down this road in the late 1960s with Vietnam and they are still carrying the baggage from that leftward turn. Lamont's win is a big step back to that losing formula. During the height of the "progressive" revolt against the war in Vietnam, Americans voted 57 percent for presidential candidates Richard Nixon and George Wallace in 1968, followed by a whopping 60 percent for Nixon in 1972 against the avowededly anti-war George McGovern.
These Democratic wipeouts in 1968 and 1972 occurred while tens of thousands of Americans were dying in Southeast Asia. Today, as much as our media and the left want to make Iraq a Vietnam-like quagmire, casualties are running at a tenth of what they were in Vietnam. The other big difference from Vietnam is Sept. 11, 2001. America was attacked 5 years ago, something many on the Left seem to forget, but the voters have not. The comments that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11 are irrelevant as Americans understand, rightly or wrongly, that we are in Iraq because of what happened on Sept. 11. Only conspiracy-minded leftists believe otherwise. Just ask yourself if the United States would have invaded Iraq had 9/11 not happened.
The "Bring Them Home, Bring Them Home" chant may win congressional districts in San Francisco and Seattle as well as Democratic primaries in solidly blue states, but it is not a serious policy. Just what does "Bring Them Home" really mean? Bring them home and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad suddenly gives up his pursuit of nukes, Al Qaeda and Hezbollah domesticate and forego terror? Leftists, pacifists and Pat Buchanan isolationists may be that naïve, but the majority of Americans are not.
The civilized world is at a very dangerous moment. There is no question that the Bush administration has made a bucket load of mistakes in fighting this war, but they (and thus America) are fighting. Bring them home is the equivalent of "we quit, we give up." Americans aren't quitters and the majority of Connecticut's citizens aren't quitters, as Lieberman's likely win in November will prove.
The Democrats have an insurgency of their own that is rapidly gaining strength, and Lieberman is the first high profile victim. But in the long run the real victim will be the Democratic Party if they continue to purge the few remaining FDR/Harry Truman/Scoop Jackson Democrats from their ranks.