With Friends Like These

The blogger who isn’t helping Ned Lamont.

Listen to John Dickerson’s latest Political Gabfest program here, or sign up for Slate’s free daily podcast on iTunes.

The offending image

Ned Lamont wants to be a senator from Connecticut and that means reacting quickly to issues that get overblown by bloggers and the media. He got his first test Wednesday. Right as Lamont was busy campaigning with Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, one of his most strident supporters in the blogosphere posted a picture of Lamont’s opponent, Joe Lieberman, in blackface. Go!

Joe was first out of the gate. “This is one of the most disgusting and hurtful images that has been used in American history,” he said of the image posted by Jane Hamsher—the founder of Firedoglake  and a Huffington Post contributor. “It’s deeply offensive to people of all colors, and it has absolutely no place in the political arena today.” He called on Lamont to ban Hamsher from traveling with the campaign, refuse to take any money she has raised, and remove any links to her postings from his Web site.

Then it was Ned’s turn. “I don’t know anything about the blogs,” he said according to Dan Balz in the Washington Post. “I’m not responsible for those. I have no comment on them.”

Oh my.

If Lamont wants to get to Washington, he’s going to need to learn one of the most important senatorial clichés: “I’d like to revise and extend my remarks.” He can’t run from the bloggers. And he can’t run from Hamsher, who has raised money for him, boosted him tirelessly, and even helped him shoot a video blog. He’s their guy. He put Markos Moulitsas, the founder of DailyKos, in a campaign ad. Bloggers are integrated into his Web site. One contributor to a Connecticut blog designed a fabulous float depicting the Bush-Lieberman kiss. It has been used to lampoon Lieberman across the state and is used in this Lamont ad. He can’t say the bloggers aren’t his problem now.

Lamont, who thus far remains the “not Lieberman” choice, is also missing a chance to be senatorial. His spokeswoman denounced Hamsher. Why didn’t he? The campaign asked Hamsher to take down the image from her post; she did, and then offered the non-apology preferred by loutish boyfriends—I’m sorry if I made you upset.  Lamont should have gone further to show some spine.

Of course Lieberman has to make so much of the issue. He’s getting thumped in a Democratic primary he didn’t think he’d have much trouble winning. Lamont is ahead by 13 points  in the most recent polls. But the link to Hamsher is more tenuous than the Lieberman camp would like to make it. She doesn’t work for the campaign. (It’s hard to picture her pickaxe among the earnest staffers.) Yes, it’s true she has worked hard to portray herself as inside the campaign bubble. (She’s backstage and gives top officials air-conditioned car rides.) But if Hamsher really were inside the Lamont campaign, she would know it was stupid to start posting offensive racial images the day the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton were campaigning with Lamont. (The campaign had been touting the visits to rebut the Lieberman campaign’s charge that Lamont was a member of an exclusive country club. It was that claim that Hamsher was responding to in her post.)

It’s tempting to write this whole business off as a meaningless tempest, and I doubt it will change the primary’s outcome. But I traded two e-mails with strategists involved in 2008 presidential campaigns who saw Lamont’s fix as a cautionary story about getting too close to this new force in politics. We’re all watching the Lamont race—bloggers, Republicans, Democrats and hacks like me—to see how powerful, sustaining, and relevant the online activists are. Candidates and campaign managers don’t like unpredictable events, and bloggers are highly unpredictable. They knew that about the bloggers who would be against them. They hadn’t focused until now on the hazard of bloggers on their side.