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A Different Kind of Three-Way: Bill and Hillary Triangulate on Lieberman


To fully understand why Bill Clinton will be spending Monday in Connecticut campaigning for Joe Lieberman, you'll need to make two appointments -- one with Sigmund Freud and one with James Carville.

First up, Dr. Freud for a quick consultation on the mindset of the eternal narcissist.

As always with Clinton, this is all about Bill. And in stumping for Lieberman he's playing out his personal psychodrama, his hunger for redemption, his longing to work through the shame of his past. The narcissist is always in desperate need of love and admiration -- and what could be more fulfilling than earning the gratitude of the man who took to the Senate floor to express his "deep disappointment and personal anger" at Clinton for his Oval Office blow job?

Bill Clinton seems to want nothing more than to win the love of those who have judged him most harshly. We see it in his desire to buddy around with Bush 41 (Remember how he giddily described his visit last summer to the Bush compound in Kennebunkport: "I had a wonderful time... He took me out on his speed boat and nearly killed me, he was driving so fast - I just loved it!") And we see it in his decision to campaign for Lieberman. Don't forget that in 1970, when Clinton was still at Yale Law School, he worked on Lieberman's first campaign for state Senate. Cue George Michael: "I will be your father figure..."

There are 36 House Republican seats and 7 GOP Senate seats experts say are up for grabs in '06 and will determine who controls Congress. If Clinton was driven by a desire to help the party -- instead of a desire to heal old psychic wounds -- he'd be hitting the hustings in one of those races instead of campaigning for Lieberman at a crucial time in a neck-and-neck Democratic primary, where his rock star appeal could be enough to give the race to Lieberman.

Earlier this month, Bill Clinton talked about the importance of Democrats uniting to showcase the "world of differences between ourselves and the Republicans" and said that Dems going after each other instead of focusing on ousting Republicans is "the nuttiest strategy I ever heard in my life." Yes, he was wagging a finger at Ned Lamont and those backing him. But now that Lamont is ahead of Lieberman in the polls, shouldn't Clinton be spending his substantial political capital taking on vulnerable Republicans instead of getting involved in a fight between two Democrats? Is spitting in the faces of the thousands of Democratic activists backing Lamont really the best use of his clout?

It is if you're thinking like James Carville, because the other reason Bill Clinton is going to Connecticut is utterly strategic. Realpolitik 101. By backing Lieberman, Clinton is trying to send the message that the war in Iraq -- Hillary's Achilles heel -- isn't the most important campaign issue in 2006. Or 2008. It also allows him to buck up the Clintons' embrace of the mythical political center -- his third way bequest to the Party. And it allows Bill and Hillary to bring their passion for triangulation into their marriage: he actively campaigns for Lieberman, while she backs away -- supporting him, but from a safe distance.

It's the kind of move Carville would make: assuming Hillary has already won the Democratic primaries and positioning her for the general election.

Which is why, at the end of the day, Bill Clinton would rather act as Hillary's de facto campaign manager instead of a party leader.

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