Joe's Tomorrow Tour
by Matt Stoller, Mon Jul 31, 2006 at 06:57:07 PM EDT
Well now that was awkward.
I just got back from a New Haven Lieberman event stop, part of 'Joe's Tomorrow Tour', and wow, what an experience. I think it was a strange event for all involved, though it's a bit hard to tell since Ed and I arrived in a giant float with a paper mache replica of George Bush kissing Lieberman, and this warps your perspective somewhat since people tend to treat you a bit differently with that sort of entrance. Surprisingly, Lieberman's youngish political staff, the Lieberyouth, didn't like us very much right off the bat.
When you drive in the float among non-Lieberpeople, all sorts of folks give you the thumbs up. They smile, they laugh, they honk, and some of them ask you what the two giant heads mean. Building this thing and driving it to public events was a stroke of genius by the Connecticut bloggers.
The event itself was in New Haven, in a refurbished housing project. After we got to the address of the event, a bunch of cops came up to us and said something to the effect of 'you're not driving that thing around here, right?' And we were kind of dumbfounded, since it's a public road. After some discussion, we saw that the next door over there was a house with a Ned Lamont sign on it and we asked if we could park in the driveway. The girl who answered the door said yes.
We parked it in the yard.
It was strange, because the cops were being tough on us even though reporter Paul Bass was standing right there and asking questions. There was an air of fake menace, as if these guys knew that they had to put on a show about trying to intimidate us. And I have to say, I don't like being yelled at by the police, though they did seem afterwards like pretty good guys doing their best in a politically difficult situation.
After we parked, Ed and I took our signs and walked into the crowd. There were about 75 people there, with around 30-45 of them being staff, political operatives, paid band members, and politicians. The rest were neighbors who heard the noise, and a few folks who heard about the event and wanted to see Lieberman speak. And there were about eight of us, holding either our own anti-Lieberman signs or Ned Lamont signs. The Lieberman campaign apparently decided that our signs are problematic, so they assigned four or five Lieberyouth to block our signs and cameras so that Lieberman wouldn't see them. I'm told that if Lieberman is exposed to liberalism for too long he starts melting. This might be why his face looks droopy.
Here are the Lieberyouth on sign patrol, blocking me from taking pictures, or rather, making it slightly harder for me to take pictures.
Lieberman soon arrived in his charmless bus, which is inexplicably called 'Joe's Tomorrow Tour' in some strange ode to Epcot. I expect if you enter the bus, you can take a guided tour of an odd and dated vision of the future, where children from all over the world will live in undersea caves and space ports, though weirdly enough there aren't cell phones or the internet.
The back of the bus had some branding issues.
Now you may think that my comments are mostly smart-ass snarkiness, but I'm trying to give you an accurate picture of what the event was like. It was, to be blunt, really weird. The rally started after Joe got there, with lots of politicians who didn't resonate with the crowd babbling somewhat incoherently about Lieberman, though that's actually kind of inaccurate, since there wasn't much of a crowd.
I stood around with my sign, going back and forth a bit with the Lieberyouth. It was hard to take them seriously, though they took me very seriously and were pretty angry that I was there. I have to say, that level of emotion is unusual among people doing events like this, since playing games with signs is a hallmark of every political professional who has ever done visibility anywhere ever. I realized about fifteen minutes into the event that it's not just Joe who's offended; they all are.
Anyway, after about a half hour of juking, this little kid came up to me and said he really wanted to hold my sign. He had been holding Lieberman signs, but he was bored, and my sign was taller than their signs. Lieberman had just a few minutes earlier come up to the kid for a photo op, so I figured, sure, why not, and I gave my sign to him.
This presented a problem for the Lieberyouth, because they had to now block a child from showing his sign to Lieberman and the crowd. The kid thought it was a game, and he was having fun trying to dodge the Lieberyouth. Then he charged ahead right into the speaking area, and the Lieberyouth realized they had to confiscate the sign from a kid who was clearly enjoying holding it.
Whew, that was close.
After all the politicos had spoken, Lieberman finally stepped up to the mike. Lieberman's speech was bad, weird, listless, and angry. He said that there are two big lies in this campaign. The first is apparently that Lieberman is not a Democrat. For the record, we call him George Bush's favorite Democrat, though we tend to acknowledge that he's a Democrat. After repeating the the mean liberal voices he hears in his head, Lieberman said something along the lines of 'I'm a Democrat, I believe in human rights, in government working for the people, etc.' What's hilarious about Lieberman's point is that he not only violated campaign speak 101, which is that you don't repeat your opponent's attacks on you, but he actually invented a new attack line and used it on himself so he could deny it.
The second big apparent slap is even weirder. 'The other big lie in this campaign is that I am George Bush.' With special emphasis, Lieberman said slowly, 'I. am. not. George. Bush.' How do you even respond to that? It's like Lieberman is running against the Chewbacca defense. He's just picking facts about himself, not positions or anything like that, just simple human facts, and saying that we are lying about them. Here's a three line play I wrote to illustrate the dynamic:
Enter Joe Lieberman, stage right
Lieberman: My opponent says I am made of wax. I am not made of wax, that is a total fabrication!
The world: What are you talking about?
In the rest of his speech, Lieberman referred repeatedly to his work in the 1960s marching and registering voters in the South. Even this didn't work, since most people in the semi-crowd weren't actually alive in the the early 1960s. At a certain point during the anecdote, one of his staffers shouted out derisively 'Where was Ned?' Lieberman grinned and said 'That's a good question, where was Ned?' While not a devastating blow, it does seem reasonable to wonder why Ned Lamont wasn't in the South in the early 1960s registering voters like Joe Lieberman was. Apparently, Ned's lame excuse is that he was in elementary school.
Anyway, the event was strange, fake, and awkward. There was a great band playing, but no one had taken fun lessons in Lieberman's camp for about twenty years.
I guess I'm still left wondering what drives this guy, and why he was once so beloved. He doesn't act like a normal person, he acts like a whiny guy who's good at chit-chatting, faking compliments, and hugging people he doesn't know while pretending that he knows them.
At the end of the day, Lieberman seemed angry, bitter, and all alone. He had delivered for Connecticut for more than thirty years. And now he's angrily asking, why are they so ungrateful?