The dismal Democratic messaging of the Lieberman debacle

I know a lot of people right now are furious Joe Lieberman has managed to keep his committee chairmanship.  I'm furious for a different reason.  In fact I'm not even mad at Joe Lieberman at this point or the fact that he managed to keep his chairmanship.  Don't get me wrong, I don't like Joe Lieberman at all.  I mean environmental policy is my highest priority (which he's actually been a leader on) and I still can't stand the guy.  From his crusade on decency standards, to his campaign against Ned Lamont, his foreign policy stances and support for the war, and adding in the 2008 election, Lieberman has always struck me as an arrogant and unapologetic egotist.

What I'm mad about is that once again I watched most of our esteemed Democratic leadership completely fumble the messaging around this whole ordeal and do so from Day One.  And that just scares the hell out of me.  Because while Democrats can get the messaging right campaigning, when it comes to governing they have shown an amazing capacity to just shoot themselves in the foot.  Seriously, they shown time and time again an amazing talent of turning the most white-hat, popularly loved, sunshine, kittens, and apple pie policy issue and into a tale of sordid backroom political maneuvering.

The entire narrative (at least in the mainstream press) on the caucus vote has been on the lines of 'will the Democrats punish Lieberman for criticizing Obama?'  Of course, you'd expect the media to run long and hard with that storyline no matter what message the Democrats were pushing; it has drama, betrayal, anger, all the good stuff of any MSM story.  But the Democrats never pushed any other message - they didn't argue on policy grounds at all.  Every quote, every damn quote, was framed around party loyalty and nothing else.  Not the effect Lieberman would have on Obama's popular if he kept his Homeland Security chair.  Not even a mention of what issues are expected to come before his committee and the effect they will have on the America people.  No, just some complaints about how Lieberman said Obama was inexperienced, and details of secret political machinations.  

As contrast, take the chairmanship dispute between Waxman and Dingell.  Waxman has come out with a powerful message that he'll best be able to help Obama enact the agenda he promised and that the American people want.  That message has worked well in the media, and while there are always political maneuvering tidbits in each article, most of the stories I've read have mostly focused on the policy issues behind this challenge.  In short, the Waxman-Dingell dispute has been grounded in issues affecting Americans and comes off as a principled argument relevant to American's real world concerns (just imagine how the media narrative would have changed if just one Senator had dared mount a challenge to Lieberman's chairmanship).  

By focusing on the party's workings versus the party's mandate, Democrats ended up backing themselves in a corner, which is precisely what allowed Lieberman to keep his committee.  Expel Lieberman and the first act of the new Democratic majority would be seen as pure political retribution, something the independents, young and infrequent voters so successfully courted by the party this last election, just can't stand.  Maybe that couldn't be helped regardless of what messaging party leaders used.  But they never even tried to fight it, guaranteeing that they'd concede to Lieberman in the end.

The conciliatory prize is that by not expelling Lieberman, the Democrats have put forth a good message: We are the party of inclusion.  It's a prize we have to settle for, but it's still powerful stuff, especially considering what we can expect to see from the Republicans for some time to come.  Having lost almost everything but the South and 'militia' areas of the Northwest, and having no moderate nonprofit infrastructure left, the Republican message for the next few years will be determined by it's most orthodox and ideologically conservative members.  Of course, Lieberman might still wreck important legislation with his powerful committee assignment, but hey at least we got a good message out in the end...

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