LAST NIGHT'S SHOWDOWN. Gee, kids, let's not play in front of old Joe Lieberman's house any more. Gosh, what an old grouch.

The Connecticut senatorial debate featured one guy who seemed to still be wearing the shrink-wrap and an 18-year incumbent doing a one-man impersonation of The Old Radley Place. Was politics ever fun for Joe Lieberman? If he's winning, he's burdened ever so by High Moral Purpose. If he's in trouble, which he is right now, he's beset on all sides by ingrates and mountebanks. It must be difficult to remain biblical if you cast yourself as Job AND Jehovah. And while Ned Lamont's most fervent acolytes occasionally seem to be writing for Tiger Beat, last night he was cool and precise and extremely disciplined. I don't know what kind of senator he'd make, but I wouldn't go into a business deal against him without body armor.

Still, for those of us outside The Land Of Steady Habits, there was a little too much about the Greenwich Town Council and submarine bases and who said what when and to whom. But there was one quote that didn't come up, and it's the only quote that should matter to those of us outside Connecticut. It's this one:

"It's time for Democrats who distrust President Bush to acknowledge he'll be commander-in-chief for three more years," the senator said. "We undermine the President's credibility at our nation's peril."

You may recognize that final sentence as the soft outer frontier of the rhetoric that ends up in a place where newspeople are accused of treason and where roam free the eliminationist fantasies of the lunatic right. It's where we find "reasonable" people treating John Yoo's authoritarian delusions as though they had something to do with America. I couldn't care less if Ned Lamont once took a Republican stand on water rates. I saw enough last night to know he'd never say anything like that.

--Charles P. Pierce