Leading article: A defeat that transforms the electoral landscape


The defeat of Joe Lieberman in his bid to be re-elected Senator for the state of Connecticut marks a turning point in US politics of the post-9/11 era. Senator Lieberman, a respected figure nationally, fell at the first hurdle, succumbing to the challenge mounted by a novice politician, Ned Lamont, for the Democratic nomination. If Mr Lieberman's name appears on the ballot paper in November, it will be as an independent, without the endorsement of the party he has represented since he entered politics more than 35 years ago.

Mr Lieberman's defeat, however, is at once both more and less significant than the bare fact of Mr Lamont's successful challenge would suggest. It is of infinitely more significance because of Mr Lieberman's stature and because of the issue on which he fell. Until recently one of the most respected politicians in the United States, Mr Lieberman had a reputation for personal integrity and was known for his expertise in security and defence. His appeal crossed party lines. This, and his political solidity, were the reasons why he was selected as Al Gore's running-mate for the presidency in 2000. Joe Lieberman is not just any rank-and-file US politician; on his home turf, he should have been unbeatable.

What cost Mr Lieberman the Senate nomination, however, was his vocal support for the war in Iraq. Mr Lieberman became the war's Democratic cheerleader to the point where he was seriously mooted as a replacement for the Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, should he be removed or resign. As the violence in Iraq escalated and more and more Democrats voiced criticism, Mr Lieberman steadfastly kept the faith.

Mr Lamont based his challenge on the single issue of Iraq. It was, he argued, a grave mistake for the Democratic Party, and for their state Senator, to have supported the war at all. Tuesday's primary became in effect a referendum on Iraq. The result showed that opposition to the war among Democrats of Connecticut cancelled out all Mr Lieberman's other political assets. It also signalled to all election candidates across the United States - but especially to Democrats - how far the national mood had shifted. From now on, support for the war must be accounted a political liability.

Democrats in Congress have tried in recent months to adopt a more critical public stance. In so doing, they have faced a problem similar to the one that faces the Conservatives here: how to justify their initial support for the war in the light of what has happened since. They charge incompetence and hubris, applied to the aftermath - but not the principle - of the war. But it is not an easy switch to make; there could be other political casualties in the US before the season is out.

Mr Lieberman's defeat is also less significant than it might appear because evidence from Connecticut that the Iraq war will be an issue - if not the issue - in the mid-term elections will not necessarily help the Democrats in their efforts to win back the two houses of Congress in November. Yes, his defeat testifies to a sharp change in US public sentiment, and it stands as a warning to other candidates - Republicans as well as Democrats. It may even have negative implications for Hillary Clinton if she decides to run for President in 2008. But it also presages divisions in the Democratic Party over Iraq policy that could only weaken it as the mid-term campaign progresses. The prospect that the Democrats will adopt an election platform which unanimously opposes the war is tantalising, but ultimately remote. Only when the Democratic Party summons up the courage to contest Mr Bush's abuse of the "patriot" card will the shadow of 9/11 be lifted from US politics.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

Recruitment Genius: Product Quality Assurance Technologist - Hardline & Electric

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role in this successful eco...

Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

Day In a Page

Read Next

CPAC 2015: What I learnt from the US — and what the US could learn from Ukip

Nigel Farage

If I were Prime Minister: I would create a government that actually reflects its people

Kaliya Franklin
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower