"Remember Ned Lamont? He was that guy who came out of nowhere to beat Joe Lieberman in the Connecticut Democratic primary in 2006, only to turn around and lose to him in the general election when he got too cautious and stopped running the hard-charging campaign that had excited everyone in the first place. I really thought he was going to win there for a while. He probably could have, but, hey, hindsight is 20/20 -- too late to do anything about it now."
That's not a real quote -- yet. But if things keep going the way they're going in the Senate race in Connecticut, you're likely to hear many variations on it in the years to come. Which would be too bad -- especially because it's so preventable.
Yes, hindsight is 20/20. But that doesn't mean we can't also have clear-eyed foresight. It would be a shame if Ned Lamont lost. And not just for Lamont. Returning Joe Lieberman to the Senate would be a loss for all Americans -- and a loss for the Constitution (see Lieberman's disgraceful vote in support of the recent torture bill). And yet I fear that's exactly what's going to happen if Lamont doesn't regain the passion and purpose that propelled him to his victory over Lieberman in the primary.
It is bitterly ironic that instead of building on that momentum by continuing to make his case against Lieberman, Lamont has let himself become enmeshed in the same consultant-driven culture of caution and blandness that has produced a steady stream of modern candidates more worried about stepping on the land mines laid out by their opponents' campaign teams than stepping forward to lead. The addition to the Lamont campaign after the primary of Democratic insiders Howard Wolfson, Doug Schoen, and Stephanie Cutter has been part of the problem. According to their poll-driven culture, one must move to the center and appeal to those in the middle. And, as a result, once-promising politicians are insidiously encouraged to lose their moral bearing -- and the authenticity that made them so compelling in the first place. In the attempt to appeal to everyone, they end up losing their appeal. As Bill Curry puts it in the Hartford Courant , "Inundated with insider advice, [Lamont] grew more cautious; his message became blurred and ineffective...Three televised debates in the next eight days may tell the outcome. To win, Lamont must come off the ropes and go on the attack."
A recent poll showed Lamont only getting the support of 57 percent of voters who disapprove of Bush's Iraq policy, and another showed Lieberman still being backed by 35 percent of Connecticut Democrats (perhaps these folks missed his recent reply when asked if America would be better off if Dems regained control of the House). Lamont is somehow letting Joe Lieberman get away with being the only candidate in the country who's actually benefiting from running as a Republican.
It's a truism in politics that candidates often give the best speech of their campaigns when they are conceding (see Al Gore, circa 2000). And it makes sense -- after they lose, they're suddenly liberated from their handlers, their advisors, and their fears of saying "the wrong thing." All at once, they remember to speak from the heart, summoning the passion and purpose that drove them to enter politics. And what a shame this is -- because if only they'd spoken like this during the campaign, they'd likely be giving a victory instead of a concession speech.
So why not have Ned Lamont lock himself in a room tomorrow and deliver his concession speech to a few of his most trusted friends so he can be freed up to act as if there is nothing left to lose between now and the election? Why wait for the inevitable post-game Monday morning quarterbacking when, with a little help from the blogosphere, the Lamont campaign can do some pre-game Sunday afternoon quarterbacking that might help get Lamont to the U.S. Senate?
At some point, Ned Lamont is going to speak from the heart, and tell us about his hopes and dreams for the country, and the passion that drove him to challenge Joe Lieberman when almost everyone said it couldn't be done. The only question is whether he'll do it now, and win, or do it on the evening of Nov. 7, as he thanks his crest-fallen supporters.
To make sure that Lamont never has to grit his teeth and congratulate Joe Lieberman on his victory, why don't we help write his "concession speech" now? Post your ideas in the comments section below and we'll cobble the best ones together and send the speech to the Lamont campaign.