Independent pollster Research 2000 conducted a recent poll of Connecticut voters:
For whom did you vote for in the 2006 race for U.S. Senate, Ned Lamont, the Democrat, Alan Schlesinger, the Republican, or Joe Lieberman, an Independent?
Lieberman Lamont Schlesinger All 49 42 9 Dem 34 62 4 Rep 67 10 23 Ind 53 41 6
If you could vote again for U.S. Senate, would you vote for Ned Lamont, the Democrat, Alan Schlesinger, the Republican, or Joe Lieberman, an Independent?
Lieberman Lamont Schlesinger All 40 48 10 Dem 25 72 3 Rep 69 7 24 Ind 38 49 9
The main takeaway from this survey is obvious. If the 2006 election were held today, Ned Lamont would be the U.S. Senator from Connecticut and Joe Lieberman would be getting ready for afternoons of chasing the neighborhood kids off his lawn. But beyond that, the survey also reveals the continuing disintegration of the frames that have defined (and misconstrued) the reality of our current political debates.
What’s interesting about this slow changing of opinions is that the biggest shifts come from independent and Democratic voters, but there’s almost no difference at all from Republicans. I think Democrats in Connecticut have clearly been disappointed at how Lieberman hasn’t just abandoned Democrats, but is still actively fighting against them. But for independents, there are likely other reasons for the shift. Independent voters tend to see themselves as moderates. They see themselves as being appalled by both extremes and parties and look for candidates with the courage to stand somewhere in the middle. But while there’s certainly extremism at both ends of our political spectrum, the extremism that drove the Iraq War has become the overriding divide in recent elections, and especially in the 2006 Connecticut Senate race. Being somewhere inbetween the two parties was no longer the most anti-extremist position.
As this divide has taken shape, Joe Lieberman occupied a fairly unique space, and his example is a good way to understand the shifting views of independents and moderates. He’s gone from being the Democratic Vice Presidential nominee to losing a Democratic Senate primary in the span of less than 6 years. But his overall view of the world hasn’t really changed that much. He’s always been a staunch authoritarian. But back before 9/11, his main targets weren’t Iran and Syria, they were video games and the music industry. As a college student during this time, it helped cultivate for me the image of left-wing extremism through political correctness.
The Bush Administration’s war in Iraq then completely shuffled the deck on what we consider to be left and right. The right-wing in this country pre-9/11 was defined more by their free market economic outlook, but following the attacks, it began to redefine itself through the war on terror. Joe Lieberman went from being an authoritarian left-wing nanny who threatened the bottom line of big business to seeing his authoritarian outlook fall perfectly in line with a party eager to drop bombs on the enemies of Israel. But while his political philosophies were always rooted in authoritarian extremism, his diversion from the Democratic Party was painted as “moderation” for being willing to stand up to the supposed “far-left”.
And thus the “moderate” Lieberman was seen by voters as being the centrist candidate – a bi-partisan independent who could relate to both Democrats and Republicans – and defeated Ned Lamont. But being a centrist does not make you a moderate. A moderate is just the opposite of an extremist. And a growing number of independents in Connecticut now realize, as Joe continues to cheer on this deeply unpopular war, and begging for another, that he’s no moderate at all. He’s the same crazy extremist he’s always been, and now his extremism is promoting an agenda much more dangerous than restrictions on video games. And in the new political climate we find ourselves in – defined greatly by how we view what’s happening in Iraq – the “left” is where all the moderates are, while the “right” is where all the extremists have ended up.
Locally, the Burner-Reichert 2006 Congressional race took on a lot of the same frames as the Senate race in Connecticut. Reichert was portrayed by many as a moderate and as having an independent streak. He appealed to independent voters in the district and won re-election. Burner, like Lamont, was a young and inexperienced candidate tied closely to the netroots community through their high-tech backgrounds, and was continually portrayed as an extremist, simply by adhering fairly closely to the Democratic Party platform. Yet Dave Reichert has now just returned from Iraq and is still enthusiastically supporting a war that has become deeply unpopular. He has never voted against the president, nor has he spoken out against any of the extremist tactics (secret prisons, warrantless spying, pre-emptive warfare) he’s employed for fighting terrorism. Darcy Burner has never taken any position even close to as extremist as what Dave Reichert now currently supports. Yet I’m sure we’ll continue to hear from the Republicans about how Burner is the more “extremist” candidate. As independent Connecticut voters have started to figure out that the labels of who was a moderate and who was an extremist in 2006 were reversed, it’s not hard to imagine that the independent voters in the 8th District of Washington are doing the same.