Monday, August 07, 2006

A race in Connecticut, Blackface, Bloggers and the Vulnerability of Congressional Candidates

It's been interesting to watch the unfolding of Connecticut's Democratic Senate primary that will come to a close as voters go to the polls tomorrow. It has been touted as anything from a bellwether on netroots and blogger influence in elections to a referendum on Bush and Iraq or nothing short of a fight for the soul of the Democratic party. I doubt I'm alone in thinking the latter was a fight lost long ago and that while the misadventure in Iraq, and Joe's support of it, likely factor significantly in primary opposition to Holy Joe and support for his opponent, Ned Lamont, it's not the whole story and bloggers, in the end, will have little impact on the outcome of this race.

The average Connecticut voter probably wasn't even aware of any blogger support enjoyed by Lamont until the brouhaha over an image (of Joe Lieberman in blackface) that accompanied a post by blogger Jane Hamsher. I'm not going to defend Jane's use of that graphic. Because its use was wrong or offensive? Not exactly, but I do think it was an incredibly stupid thing to do.

Allow me to digress a little here. Just a couple of years shy of thirty years ago, Mr. CJ and I took the Briggs-Meyer personality inventory as part of our pre-marital activities (turns out we were found to be totally incompatible and yet ...) and I still recall one of the questions for which our answers were polar opposites. It had something to do with the use sarcasm as a form of speech. Mr. CJ answered that sarcasm could be dispensed with while I thought it was too effective a form of communication to be tossed aside merely because someone could be hurt/offended. So, Mr. CJ's a nicer person than me - big deal, I concede. My point is, that as a general rule I believe that, like sarcasm, strong actions or images (like flag burning or blackface) can be effective precisely because of their widely recognized symbolism and, yes, their ability to offend. In this instance the responsible graphic artist, DarkBlack, believes similarly as he/she defends the imagery thusly:
As the composer of the work in question, allow me to make some broader points clearer. This will be my last word on the subject, but all are free to debate further, of course.

Lieberman has attempted to activate a voting demographic that his strategists believe will aid him in his quest.

To this end, he has imported a figure, Bill Clinton, who has standing with the American black community, and has repeatedly asserted his personal credentials as one who has worked on behalf of that community.

Yet Lieberman has engaged in race baiting (with the Lamont flyer) as a cynical attempt to game this demographic, and he has engaged in other activities which cast doubtful shadows upon this allegiance.

Thus, in my opinion, Lieberman is pretending to be something that he is not for personal gain, exactly like the vile caucasian minstrel show performers of Vaudeville.

And so my artist's impression stands.

If we as a people run from controversial imagery, we will never stop running. Better to unearth and deal with the unpleasant than to live in fear.
To DarkBlack I would say that I don't disagree with your take on Lieberman or how this artwork makes the point, however, I'm not sure that the post accompanying the graphic is making those points and politics ain't art.

But, back from my digression. It was an incredibly stupid thing to do because Ms. Hamsher is no political novice, and while she isn't a member of Lamont's campaign staff neither is she merely covering the campaign. She actively advocates for Mr. Lamont (as do others at Firedoglake) and to have not foreseen that Mr. Lamont's campaign would have to address that post is mindblowingly shocking for someone as politically savvy as Jane. Jane did pen an apology of sorts and, frankly, she didn't do anything that the rest of us haven't likely done -which is to let our passion about something get the best of us at times. But, ironically, depending on how this has played out in the Connecticut media, her advocacy for Mr. Lamont could have a negative impact on his pursuit of that senate seat.

Certainly high traffic blogs like Firedoglake have expanded interest in this race beyond Connecticut and that has also added to the Lamont coffers through donation sites such as ActBlue but most of these people can't vote in Connecticut. So it is, as ever, the local political activists (some of whom may also blog and may be making use of the internet as an organizing tool for their donation and GOTV efforts) and the voters who will decide this contest with, while certainly not negligible, little impact from bloggers.

So, Why Joe Lieberman? What makes him vulnerable? The New York Times got it partially correct in their endorsement Lamont in which they disagree with Joe's assertion the this is a fight over the soul of the Democratic party and that (in Joe's view) it's a shame that you have to agree 100% or be tossed out - that is far from the issue. While I disagree with their position that were it not for Iraq this primary would not have happened it is true that:
At this moment, with a Republican president intent on drastically expanding his powers with the support of the Republican House and Senate, it is critical that the minority party serve as a responsible, but vigorous, watchdog. That does not require shrillness or absolutism. But this is no time for a man with Mr. Lieberman’s ability to command Republicans’ attention to become their enabler, and embrace a role as the president’s defender.
But it's more than that. It may not be about the soul of the Democratic party but it may have something to do with the soul of the democratic process. I think it has a lot more to do with this than it does with Joe's stance on the Iraq war. His stance on Iraq is just another symptom of the larger disease that is stagnant incumbency. The voter, you know, the majority, those who don't make over $100,000 a year and are just one medical disaster away from bankruptcy they can no long declare, those people. You see, they keep expecting someone to stand up for them and yes, part of that is wanting their representatives to demand some fucking evidence before sending their kids off to fight an unwarranted, ill-advised war.

Congressional approval ratings may be at a 12-year low but they didn't get there overnight. Voters of every political stripe have had it and they feel powerless to do much about it. And, by the way, what's this shit about this race meaning so much more because Lieberman is not just any Democrat but he was our Vice-Presidential nominee in 2000 - yeah, because the Democratic voter had a say in that. Hell, as it is, we don't even get to choose our presidential nominee, they're selected by the D.C. establishment and confirmed by a vast minority of voters in the early primary states. Increasingly our only viable candidates for any office will necessarily, like Lamont, be millionaires.

I think it's telling that in this interview, when asked if he's out of touch with the Connecticut voters, Joe responds that he goes back there (Connecticut) and proceeds to talk about the various organizational endorsements he's garnered; never once does he mention the voters. And you've got to love this quote from Lieberman in an article about his latest efforts to denounce his Bushness:
"Joseph had faith that God will take care of the haters and I have a certain faith that this Tuesday God will take care of the voters.”
Just like Bush, God is on his side. I wonder - is it the same God? Pssst, Joe. It's the arrogance, stupid.

When Clinton ran in '92 he had this hokey little video entitled A Place Called Hope, and that is what this election is about. The voters (at least those who haven't been lost to apathy) still hope someone will appear on the horizon to represent them, they already know those currently on the hill aren't doing so. And that's why Joe Lieberman is in trouble. People are tired of not being represented and Ned provides a viable alternative ... potential ... a chance ... hope.

Addendum: No matter the polls maybe there's hope for Holy Joe after all - as Billmon says, he is a Man for All Seasons. Adam has more from the Book of Lieberman.