The Shadow Knows.

July 9, 2006

The Shadow Knows.

Sunday, July 9, 2006

Every Sunday CUIP’s political director Jacqueline Salit and strategist and philosopher Fred Newman watch the political talk shows and discuss them. Here are excerpts from their dialogue on Sunday, June 18, 2006 after watching “The Chris Matthews Show,” “Meet the Press” and “The McLaughlin Group.”

Salit: One of the big stories this week was Joe Lieberman’s announcement that he’s going to petition to run for re-election as an independent in Connecticut, in the event that he loses the Democratic Primary. He’s been challenged in the Democratic primary by Ned Lamont, who’s running as a critic of the Iraq war, and who has the support of the left-liberal blog community nationally. Let me ask you the obvious question. Is this, in your view, a “big” story? It’s being related to in the media as having significance beyond Connecticut, that it’s a test of the rift inside the Democratic Party relative to the Iraq war. So, do you think of it as a big story?

Newman: It’s hard to answer that because it depends so much on how it plays out. What’s remarkable though, is how long it’s taken for the political fallout over the war issue, which is a big story, and most particularly for the Democratic Party, to have made it to the surface. That’s what’s really interesting. Now we’ll see how that plays out in a state like Connecticut.

Salit: When you say “made it to the surface,” what do you mean?

Newman: Most of the delegates – 95%, if I recall – at the 2004 Democratic Party National Convention were anti-war.

Salit: Right.

Newman: But that never rose to the surface in nominating John Kerry. It was completely covered over.

Salit: Right.

Newman: And the guy who got the nomination was pro-war.

Salit: Yes.

Newman: There was no debate and no discussion. The extent to which the anti-war issue is a potentially splitting issue within the party was entirely repressed. Now, it’s finally made it to the surface in this Connecticut contest. That’s the issue in the Lieberman race. I don’t think the issue is party loyalty. Chris Dodd pointed out that other major party figures have run with an independent line before. That’s not a new thing. Lots of people have done that.

Salit: Including in Connecticut. Lowell Weicker was elected governor in 1990 as an independent.

Newman: Yes, and I don’t think it has any extraordinary significance for independent politics.

Salit: I agree with that.

Newman: The real issue in the Lieberman situation is the war in Iraq, and the kind of role that the Iraq war is going to play in the elections this fall and beyond that, in ’08.

Salit: I’m sure Hillary is paying close attention. Did you have any reaction to George Will’s commentary about “monomania,” meaning that if the Democratic Party’s future becomes defined by a single issue – the Iraq war – it’s going to be detrimental for the Democrats. What would you say about that?

Newman: I’m not prepared to do politics in terms of what is or isn’t detrimental to political parties. The point is that there is a strong sentiment on the part of the American people about this war, and the parties have to figure out what they’re going to do with it, not the other way around. The parties sometimes make it seem as if their job is to get the American people in line, so they won’t have trouble conducting their business.

Salit: Can they make that stick in this context?

Newman: War controversies are curious issues, and they don’t always make it to finish line in the electoral arena. Sometimes, they die out, a little short of having an impact on who wins or loses elections. Even in ’68, where opposition to the Vietnam War was vast and visible, it was enough to get Lyndon Johnson to bow out, but no more than that.

Salit: Hubert Humphrey, Johnson’s Vice President became the nominee.

Newman: Right. If Bobby Kennedy had lived, it might have been another story. But he didn’t. And the anti-war movement was not able to take over the party.

Salit: That’s important to consider.

Newman: I don’t know whether Ned Lamont is going to emerge as a significant new voice, who turns the tide inside the party. I don’t know whether the anti-war movement is going to take over the Democratic Party.

Salit: And what about Howard Dean?

Newman: Dean is the Chair of the DNC, but I think that’s what they gave him as an alternative to allowing the anti-war movement to take over the party. That’s another curious feature of the situation. The most identifiable anti-war Democrat, Howard Dean, is now the chair of a party which is not anti-war. The majority of its elected officials – from Hillary on down – are still pro-war. What did you call it, mono-what?

Salit: It was George Will, actually. “Monomania”.

Newman: I don’t think it’s monomania. I think it’s the dominant issue among a cross-section of the American population.

Salit: Yes.

Newman: That’s not monomania.

Salit: It is a little funny to call the issue which is about America’s position in the world, monomania.

Newman: Right. That’s like saying to Wall Street, “All you think about is money.”

Salit: The Lieberman/Lamont race is also a story about the so-called net-roots, the ability of this newly emerged constituency within the Democratic Party, to flex their political muscle.

Newman: I think they do have a capacity to wield enormous influence, and certainly to get press coverage. Do they have the capacity to win anything of significance inside the Democratic Party? I don’t know that history is on their side, in that regard.

Salit: Lieberman’s announcement that he’s going to run as an independent if he loses the primary raised the question of party loyalty. There’s been a rash of assertions that everyone else in the Democratic Party has to pledge to support the Democratic nominee.

Newman: Chris Dodd hasn’t.

Salit: Yes, and Dodd handled the question very well, I thought. But the Lamont people, including the netroots leadership, made a set of proclamations about how ‘We’ve got to be loyal to the Party. Whoever wins the primary, everybody has to support them. That’s got to be fundamental.’

Newman: I think the operative principle here is ‘You’ve got to be loyal to the party until you’re not loyal to the party,’ and pretty much everyone agrees with that.

Salit: Yes.

Newman: It’s basically a tautology. And loyalty is just another issue that you use or don’t use, depending on whether it’s advantageous to you politically.

Salit: Right.

Newman: People talk about “party loyalty” as if that’s a really big thing. Well, it’s a big thing until it’s not a big thing. And then politicians of all stripes dump it as quickly as they have to.

Salit: Another story this week featured on the talk shows was the court ruling in New York about gay marriage. Basically, the court said there’s no constitutional guarantee of the right to gay marriage. If New York State is going to legalize gay marriage, says the court, then it’s going to have to be done by the legislature. Some critics of gay marriage argued that the gay movement should be pleased with the decision because if they’d gotten a positive ruling, it would have been a top-down resolution to this question, which can be very polarizing. They argued that it is much healthier and much more substantive if the legislature is forced to act on this question.

Newman: I think the more interesting question, perhaps, as Peter Beinart was saying, is that culturally speaking, which is really where the change is going to happen, public sentiment is moving more in the direction of support for gay marriage.

Salit: And its legalization?

Newman: Well, maybe not legalization because that implies action by either the courts or the legislature. But, simply the reality of gay marriage as a societally acceptable way of life.

Salit: And do the lawmakers eventually catch up?

Newman: Well, legislatures can stay behind the times, and they often do. But this is going to happen, it is happening, it’s happening as a cultural phenomenon.

Salit: So what does that dictate in terms of strategies for the gay movement?

Newman: I don’t know if I agree with the critics who say that it is better for the gay movement if the courts don’t affirm that right. The gay movement is now looking to win victories and they’re not particularly interested in whether it’s going to evolve culturally in 10 years, 20 years, 50 years or 100 years. So I don’t know if they think they are better off, and I respect their point of view on this. However, I’m not surprised by the court decision.

Salit: A lot of people in the gay movement were.

Newman: Well, the courts are designed to be conservative. The judicial branch of the American government was designed to be conservative.

Salit: Will the legislature pick this up?

Newman: I don’t know. That’s difficult to predict, and is connected, obviously, to the election results in New York. Something that seems clear, and maybe this is unduly psychological and even metaphysical, is that things are moving faster than the American political class can handle. You can see that all over the place — in international affairs, in domestic and social trends. The American people are moving faster, culturally, than the political class in this country can handle.

Salit: What is that going to lead to?

Newman: It could be a good thing; it could be a disaster. It could be neither. Some commentators noted that the White House and Bush can’t say the same thing on two consecutive days about what’s going on in North Korea. That “out of touch” quality seems to permeate many different things. There’s a disconnect between the rate of American cultural development and the political intelligence of the political class. A leftist like myself might be inclined to call it a dialectic, but it’s not a dialectic. It’s a significant inconsistency between cultural events and trends and the capacity of the political people in this country to figure out what to do with the pace at which things are moving. Some people like that. Some people don’t like that. Some people don’t really care about that. That’s most people.

Salit: The that being?

Newman: This inconsistency. Because you’re doing politics, but the politics that you’re doing, your way of doing politics is still using tools from a time when cultural evolution was moving at a slower rate.

Salit: Okay.

Newman: What you decide is the world’s greatest tactic today might turn out to be nonsense four days from now.

Salit: Presumably that’s as true for the independent movement as it is for the White House.

Newman: Yes. And it can make things hard to read. If you had to gamble on the Lieberman/Lamont race you’d figure that Lieberman’s going to win. On the other hand, Ned Lamont has the same last name as the “Shadow” from the famous old radio show. Corliss Lamont was the Shadow, and he knew what evil lurks in the hearts of men.

Salit: He did, indeed. Thank you.