One of the more troubling aspects of Joe Lieberman’s defiance of the will of Connecticut’s Democratic voters is his clear sense of entitlement. Joe thinks he has a right to be a senator — that the voters owe it to him.
And why not, some might argue: After all, he’s held the office for 18 long years; just six years ago he was the Democratic nominee for vice president, for Pete’s sake. Why shouldn’t he feel betrayed? Why shouldn’t he look for any possible way to fight back?
The problem with this line of thinking, of course, is that this isn’t supposed to be primarily about Joe Lieberman — it’s supposed to be about democracy; and in a democracy, no one, not even Joe Lieberman, is too big to take a fall when the voters decide the time is right.
It’s also worth remembering that Lieberman is far from alone: Bigger men (and women) than he have gone down to defeat under circumstances where they might be forgiven a twinge or two of feeling betrayed.
Walter Mondale is an icon in Minnesota politics. He served in the United States Senate for over 16 years before being tapped to be Jimmy Carter’s vice presidential candidate in 1976. He later ran as the Democratic presidential nominee in 1984.
So when, in 2002, the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party picked Mondale to replace Paul Wellstone, following Wellstone’s tragic death in an airplane crash, he looked to be a pretty solid bet to win.
But he lost.
And he didn’t cry in his beer or attack the voters; instead, he demonstrated a grace in defeat Lieberman would do well to study. In his concession speech he said, “At the end of what will be my last campaign, I want to say to Minnesota, you always treated me well, you always listened to me.”
You see, Fritz Mondale, even in that moment of disappointment — and yes, embarrassment, too — understood who the boss was.
George McGovern served South Dakota as a senator for a full 18 years, as well as being the 1972 Democratic presidential nominee. But he was voted out of office in the Reagan landslide of 1980.
Richard Nixon had a political resume a mile long, including eight years as vice president, when he ran for Governor of California in 1962 (just two years after losing the presidency to JFK by a whisker). He still lost (“you won’t have Dick Nixon to kick around anymore”).
Margaret Chase Smith (Republican) was a legend in the State of Maine; she deserves the nation’s gratitude for being one of the very first people to have the guts to stand up to Senator Joseph McCarthy’s red-baiting. But in 1972, after 32 years in the House and Senate, she was abruptly booted out of office.
J. William Fulbright had served as a senator for Arkansas for 30 years, chairing the Foreign Relations Committee during the crucial hearings on the Vietnam War, before being beaten in the Democratic primary by Governor Dale Bumpers in 1974.
There are, of course, numerous other examples of important politicians and statesmen losing elections here in the United States, but visiting the biggest shocker of them all requires traveling across the pond. The story needs a little background: On May 8, 1945 the Allies celebrated Victory in Europe Day, formally marking the defeat of Nazi Germany. Winston Churchill was forever enshrined in the hearts of the British people as one of history’s greatest leaders.
Two months later — yes, two months — the British public, anxious for rapid social progress, voted Labour into office by an overwhelming margin, thereby tossing Churchill out as prime minister.
Historians (and others) have often (and understandably) chastised the British voters for ingratitude, given that Churchill played such an indispensable role in saving England from the unthinkable fate of Nazi domination. But even in this most extreme of cases, the bottom line remains that in a democracy the voters have the right to choose the candidate (or in Great Britain the party) they believe will best serve their needs.
No political leader, not even a Winston Churchill, has the right to demand the loyalty of the electorate.
And to state the obvious, Senator Lieberman, you’re no Winston Churchill.
So I think it’s fair to ask: Just who is Joe Lieberman to be pouting stubbornly in the face of all of this greatness? And by what right does he place his personal ambitions ahead of the good of the very political party that carried him into office for so many years, even to the point of denigrating that party and its voters, especially in a year as critical as this one?
Stop crying over your broken toys, Joe. Better people than you have suffered your fate. It’s time to go home
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