Thursday, August 10, 2006

A Proliferation Of Really Bad Vietnam Analogies

I like nothing better than to make historical analogies, in order to better understand where we might be going, based on what's happened before. One of my favorite books from college days is entitled "Man's Past, Man's Future," that does exactly that for a number of historical events and the modern age. People being people, similar historical situations tend to evolve in roughly similar ways - civil wars, expanding empires, mass migrations, famines, etc. No series of events are identical, however, so the analogies often break down, or have alternative endings. It's more of an art than a science, but it is fun.

Joe Lieberman's defeat has brought every wacko analogy from the period 1968-1972 out into the open, with Lieberman playing the role of rejected presidential candidate Scoop Jackson. Jacob Weisberg at Slate and the insufferable Martin Peretz at TNR have led the way. There are several sites, such as TPM Cafe and Lawyers, Guns & Money where these analogies are being shredded even now.

When I was a teenager, I remember (at Walt's invitation) attending a Scoop Jackson airport news conference. At the time, Jackson had just declared his candidacy for the 1976 Democratic presidential nomination.

The MOST wooden campaigner in American political history. He muttered from a prepared text, seemed unfamiliar with use of a microphone, and never made eye contact. Even the reporters were falling asleep.

Jackson was a proto-Lieberman, trying to triangulate himself away from the rest of the Democratic Party. Fortunately, the primary voters of 1976 saw through the absurdity of his campaign and snuffed out his ambitions. As the CT primary voters in 2006 have done their best to snuff out Lieberman's ambitions.

Courtesy of the Booman Tribune, here is this strange political analysis, where the author is under the impression that Ned Lamont's supporters are mostly political neophytes who would have overlooked Lieberman's apostasy had Lieberman actually won the Connecticut Senatorial primary election. In fact, most of Lamont's supporters are from the suburbs, are middle-aged, and can scarcely be called neophytes:
Democrats lost the 2004 presidential election over leadership on national security. Last 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% would be the best tell on how the three-way would shakeout. With his very solid 48.2%, 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 Reverends 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 1960's 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% for Nixon and Wallace in 1968, followed by a whopping 60% for Nixon in 1972 against the avowededly anti-war McGovern.
This analysis could not be more wrong - a complete misreading of 1972, and a complete misreading of today. These analogies collapse at the slightest examination. How a defeat can be interpreted as Joementum is beyond me. But, like I say, it's more of an art than a science. In November, analogy time will be over and the proof will be (as they say) in the pudding.

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