Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Matt Bai Historical Lapse of the Week

[Updated, see below]
[T]his is Connecticut, my home state, where the business of campaigns and governance used to be a predictable, serious affair, the province of mostly estimable public servants who worked their way up through town councils or local party machines. Sometimes called the Land of Steady Habits, Connecticut was never a place for garish campaigns and outsize characters with bank statements to match.

Until recently, the closest thing Connecticut experienced to an overturning of the political order, at least in modern times, was the revolt over a state income tax in the early 1990s. So incensed were the voters then that they replaced their moderate governor, the former longtime senator Lowell Weicker, with a more conservative career politician, a three-term congressman named John Rowland. Take that, status quo! (Matt Bai, NYT Magazine).
OK, I'll give him a pass on Weicker's defeat of Tom Dodd in 1970; we'll call that before "modern times."  And then there's Chris Dodd's victory in 1980, which I'd agree was not about upsetting the status quo; Dodd, son of a Senator, replaced retiring Democrat Abe Ribicoff.

However.  Lowell Weicker...yeah, he was a "longtime Senator."  But he was defeated for reelection in 1988, a real barnburner of an election, by insurgent Joe Lieberman.  That's one "overturning of the political order" for you.  What happened next, however, was even more off-the-wall.  After losing in part because conservatives abandoned him, Weicker then ran for Governor as a third party candidate, and won.  He might have been a familiar pol, but I just can't see any way of characterizing a defeated US Senator forming his own party, running for governor, and winning as anything other than "an overturning of the political order."  Indeed, it's hard to see John Rowland's victory in 1994 as an isolated event, rather than part of a sequence of upheaval going from 1988, to 1990, to 1994.

Nice job, Matt Bai!

(I'll add, although it's I suppose a bit less clear cut, that neither Weicker nor Lieberman is exactly a button-down country club type, the type which Bai tells us dominates Connecticut politics and from which Linda McMahon would be a break.  Lowell Weicker, in particular, always struck me as an "outsized character," although I suppose that's a question of judgment, not of fact.)

[UPDATE: OK, I admit it; I wrote the item without finishing the article.  But Steve Kornacki did read the whole article, and (back on Monday) had a far more serious critique of it.   Basically, Bai got the political parties portion of the story completely backwards.  Yikes]


  1. Does "until recently" exclude 2006?
    That doesn't seem like the established order: long-time incumbent defeated in the primary, makes own party, wins general election when people who've usually voted against him vote for him instead of their own party's nominee, has the party taken over the next year by people who dislike this incumbent. (Yes, the Connecticut for Lieberman party no longer endorses Lieberman...http://ctforlieberman.blogspot.com/)

  2. Actually, Bai is OK on that -- he thinks that CT's trauma started with Rowland's defeat of Weicker, and continued with a string of events (Rowland's legal trouble, the 2006 Senate race, and something about a state budget deficit).


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