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Joe Liberman, sore loser

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Joe Liberman, sore loser

Political analysts tend to over-interpret the results of isolated elections.

The primary was about one issue: the war in Iraq. Mr. Lieberman was an otherwise highly regarded, well-ensconced Democratic incumbent, who would never have faced a meaningful primary challenge had he not vocally supported President George W. Bush's invasion in 2003, continued to defend the war in principle and opposed adopting a timetable for withdrawal. Mr. [ Ned ] Lamont, a preppy political novice from the wealthy enclave of Greenwich, got the idea to run last year when something he read in the Wall Street Journal made him gag on his breakfast. It was a hopeful analysis of Iraq by Mr. Lieberman.

The Democrats were in spectacular disarray-not least over Iraq. But the Bush White House and Republican-controlled Congress are now widely seen as incompetent and indolent, enough for the Democrats ( just possibly ) to win big in November.

Mr. Lieberman claimed to have fallen victim to "the old politics of partisan polarization". But that rather ignores the "with us or against us" nature of American politics in the era of culture wars. The senator's bipartisan support for the foreign policy of president George W. Bush was gradually undermined by the willful manipulation of security issues and Iraq for partisan gain by the White House and its supporters.

The danger for the Republicans is that this perception extends well beyond the Democrats. Indeed, it is often most forcefully articulated from within its own ranks by figures such as Sen. Chuck Hagel, the decorated Vietnam veteran.

But recent polls show that Democrats are more motivated and energized than their opponents. One this week, for The Washington Post and ABC News, positions the Democrats almost exactly where the Republicans were in mid-1994-the last time both houses of Congress changed hands-revealing deep hostility towards incumbents.

In the wake of the Lieberman defeat, the Democrats will have to withstand a predictable onslaught from Bush strategists such as Karl Rove-with help of right-wing media-Fox News and newspapers like the Chicago Tribune in their editorials-who will paint a lurid picture of a radical left-turn by patrician Yankees who will "cut and run" from the fight in Iraq.

Although fuelled by Iraq, the Lamont victory was built not so much around the left as old money and new media. Nonetheless, as so many leading Democrats waffle and weave around most of the big issues from Iraq to the Bush tax cuts, not even their supporters are sure what the party stands for.

The Democrats now have the chance to rectify that. They must persuade Americans they can strengthen the economy in ways that share its benefits more broadly, and that they are competent to take charge of security and rebuild U.S. standing in the world.
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