"Potomac fever" claimed another victim yesterday, as U. S. Senator Joe Lieberman was defeated for being President Bush’s "favorite Democrat."
I am a Connecticut native; my family visited the Connecticut homestead until a few years ago. I remember the night Joe Lieberman was elected. President Bush (I) was elected in 1988 but even then Connecticut was so liberal they dumped the Republican incumbent and elected a Democrat.
Many of the Democratic Party’s big guns came to Connecticut to support Joe this time: Hillary and Bill Clinton were prominent among them. But today they are backing the winner of the primary and politics being politics Lieberman will soon fade from the scene. My guess: president Bush nominates Lieberman to be Ambassador to the United Nations.
This was an extraordinary election: Lieberman was defeated because of his support for the Iraq war, support which he continued to offer right down to election day. And Joe was defeated for an even more extraordinary reason: he was too cozy with Republicans and too friendly with the Republican president.
Now Republicans may mourn Joe’s passing from the senate. Or they may not. But they are probably gleeful that Democrats have made the war in Iraq an issue by dumping Lieberman. They think they can win on Iraq. It ain’t so.
Every decade we have seen a tide of voter discontent sweep the nation and upset the establishment. In 1964, civil rights was the breakthrough issue. In 1974 it was Watergate. In 1984 it was the bankruptcy of liberal policies. In 1994 it was the bankruptcy of the Democratic Party in Congress. 2004 was a surprise; not much happened.
But watch and wait for 2006. Tidal waves are seldom visible in their early stages. Public discontent, like oceanic earthquakes and tsunamis, develop below the surface of the water. But they hit with deadly force.
One of two things is going to happen in November: either the Democrats are going to retake Congress, or they are going to take to the streets. Either way Republicans are endangered. After Nixon was elected, American’s streets exploded in 1969 and especially the spring of 1970. It all ended at Kent State University in Ohio where untrained National Guardsmen killed helpless students.
Frankly, I am surprised Lieberman was defeated, and I am not surprised. The power of incumbency is so overwhelming the winner Ned Lamont achieved a political miracle in dumping Joe. Still, only six years ago Joe was at the pinnacle of his power, the first Jew to reach a national ticket. His horizons seemed unlimited. Lieberman had succeeded where an earlier Connecticut senator, Abraham Ribicoff had not. Now Joe’s career lies in ruins.
Lieberman ascribes his downfall to toxic politics. But I think toxicity is only a partial and limited explanation. In reality, Joe succumbed to "Potomac Fever," that disease unique to Washington, DC, where ordinary people are bestowed by our democracy with extraordinary powers, and often come to believe their prominence is a perpetual birthright.
I have seen congressmen who forgot their constituencies. They are the ones who took free golfing trips from lobbyists, and lost touch with local officials and legislators. I’ve seen it up close in forty years of being in and out of Washington. Potomac Fever can be deadly. Yesterday it was.
Democrats dropped a "bunker buster" on the White House by dumping Lieberman. Maybe the president will take notice. Probably not. We are in for an ugly, nasty campaign season. The bombs that are exploding in Iraq are now exploding on Main Street.
And so we await the next chapter. Democrats will coalesce around Lamont. Joe will be history, The Party is the party.
Come election day, nationally we will almost certainly face a divided government. President Bush’s adventure in Iraq has devastated this nation abroad. It is about to devastate the Republican Party at home. Joe may say it isn’t so. But, painfully, it is. But then he was a Democrat. Wasn’t he?