CH-CH-CHANGES. I didn't follow the ins and outs of the Lamont-Lieberman contest as closely as some on this site, since I've been off blog and in an intensive reporting project for the past few weeks, but permit me a few observations.
Lamont won not just because of the netroots, or his deft use of house parties and other community-based organizing techniques in Connecticut, but because he was a damn good candidate. I watched both Lamont and Lieberman out of the corner of my eye on ABC's This Week over the weekend, and while Lieberman appeared much more affable than I'd expected, he still turned in a tepid, milquetoast, forgettable performance. Lamont, on the other hand, was clear about exactly what he stood for and against, and made a strong and compelling case for himself. It was like watching a Republican take on a Democrat, except in this instance Lamont was playing the role of clear-spoken Republican to Lieberman's Democratic wuss.
Which brings me to my second point. Noam Scheiber, in today's New York Times, catalogs some of the differences between the old interest groups and the netroots, which will be familiar to readers of this site and TNR's The Plank. But the one difference he doesn't get into is that between settled controversies and new controversies. That's really the biggest difference in terms of the old interest groups and the new netroots activists. I don't think it's the difference between single issue groups and broadly liberal partisans that he sketches out -- it's the difference between issues that have been kicking around for decades which fit into predictable narratives, and where progress consists in defense and maintenance, and issues that are still seeing the contours of the debate around them defined. Democratic-leaning interest groups are, by and large, concerned with upkeep -- maintaining abortion rights, defending labor laws, and so on. Netroots activist, by contrast, are more concerned with issues that are new and unsettled: the war in Iraq, bankruptcy laws, etc. Because of this, the netroots activists will always appear highly controversial. They are trying to move the debate around new issues where the narratives are in flux.
Real leadership in our current partisan political environment is always controversial and greeted by attack. Just think back to Bill Clinton's administration. Two of his biggest controversies surrounded welfare and health care reform. He led his party on one, and tried to lead it on the other. But real leadership -- a contest of opinions around emerging issues -- is also always more compelling and memorable than issue maintenance, and Lamont benefited from that fact.