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Sunday, July 09, 2006

Lieberman's Loyalty

Jonathan Chait of the Los Angeles Times argues that Democrats are foolish to splinter over the Lieberman issue:

Purely foolish Democrats, by Jonathan Chait, LA Times: Ned Lamont's challenge to Sen. Joe Lieberman in next month's Connecticut primary has blossomed into a full-scale Democratic civil war. ... A good window into the competing mentalities can be found in two arguments, one by prominent Lieberman supporters, the other by a prominent critic. First, the supporters. ... Marshall Wittmann and Steven J. Nider of the moderate Democratic Leadership Council complain that "far too many Democrats view George W. Bush as a greater threat to the nation than Osama bin Laden." ...

Those loony Democrats! But wait, is this really such a crazy view? Even though all but the loopiest Democrat would concede that Bin Laden is more evil than Bush, that doesn't mean he's a greater threat. Bin Laden is hiding somewhere in the mountains, has no weapons of mass destruction and apparently very limited numbers of followers capable of striking at the U.S.

Bush, on the other hand, has wreaked enormous damage on the political and social fabric of the country. He has massively mismanaged a major war, with catastrophic consequences; he has strained the fabric of American democracy with his claims of nearly unchecked power and morally corrupt Gilded Age policies. It's quite reasonable to conclude that Bush will harm the nation more — if not more than Bin Laden would like to, than more than he actually can.

This is what Lieberman and his backers don't understand. They piously insist that ... they won't take political potshots at a Republican president when he's waging a war in America's name...

But if Lieberman's allies are irritating and often wrongheaded, alas, his enemies are worse. Lieberman recently declared, "I have loyalties that are greater than those to my party." Markos Moulitsas, the lefty blogger from Daily Kos who has ... made Lieberman's defeat a personal crusade, posted this quote on his website in the obvious belief that it's self-evidently absurd. But shouldn't we all have greater loyalties than the one to our party — say, to our country? Partisanship isn't nothing, but must it be everything?

Moulitsas and many of his allies insist that they just want Democrats to win. But in fact, they believe that any deviation from the party line — except for a few circumscribed instances, such as Democrats running for office in red states — is an unforgivable crime. ... It is an odd way to go about building a majority.

Their technique of victory-via-purge is on display in Connecticut. ... Lieberman has announced his intention to run an independent candidacy should he lose the primary. Moulitsas and other Lamont supporters are filled with outrage that Lieberman has opened up the possibility of splitting the liberal vote and letting a Republican win.

Well, OK, some anger is appropriate here. But doesn't this suggest that the whole Lamont crusade has sort of backfired? Although I'm no Karl Rove, it seems to me that turning a rock-solid Democratic seat into a potential Republican pickup represents something less than a political masterstroke.

The whole anti-Lieberman blog campaign has a self-fulfilling quality: They charge that Lieberman isn't a Democrat, they drive him from the party, and they declare themselves to be correct. The more ex-Democrats they create, the more sure of their own virtue they become.

There's more to this. To the archives:

Paul Krugman: Talk-Show Joe: Paul Krugman looks at Joe Lieberman's declining popularity as he has become a centrist — a centrist within the Republican party:

Talk-Show Joe, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: Friday was a bad day for Senator Joseph Lieberman... The ... news was that Ned Lamont, an almost unknown challenger, received a third of the votes. This gave Mr. Lamont the right to run against Mr. Lieberman in a primary, and suggests that Mr. Lamont may even win.

What happened to Mr. Lieberman? Some news reports may lead you to believe that he is in trouble solely because of his support for the Iraq war. But there's much more to it than that. Mr. Lieberman has consistently supported Republican talking points. This has made him a lion of the Sunday talk shows, but has put him out of touch with his constituents — and with reality.

Mr. Lieberman isn't the only nationally known Democrat who still supports the Iraq war. But he ... has joined the Bush administration by insisting on an upbeat picture of ... Iraq that is increasingly delusional. Moreover, Mr. Lieberman has supported the attempt to label questions about ... Iraq and criticism of the administration's policies ... as unpatriotic. How else is one to interpret his warning, late last year, that "it is time for Democrats who distrust President Bush to acknowledge that he will be Commander-in-Chief for three more critical years, and that in matters of war we undermine Presidential credibility at our nation's peril"?

And it's not just Iraq. ...[On] Social Security ... Mr. Lieberman repeatedly supported the administration's scare tactics. "Every year we wait to come up with a solution ...," he declared in March 2005, "costs our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren $600 billion more." This claim echoed a Bush administration talking point... But the talking point was simply false...

There's more. Mr. Lieberman supported Congressional intervention in the Terri Schiavo affair... And ... Mr. Lieberman showed far more outrage over Bill Clinton's personal life than he has ever shown over Mr. Bush's catastrophic failures as commander in chief. ...

Mr. Lieberman, who is often described as a "centrist," is or was very much at odds not just with the Democratic base but with public opinion as a whole. ... Mr. Lieberman's defenders would have you believe that his increasingly unpopular positions reflect his principles. But ... the common theme in Mr. Lieberman's positions seems to be this: In each case he has taken the stand that is most likely to get him on TV.

You see, the talking-head circuit loves centrists. But a centrist, as defined inside the Beltway, doesn't mean someone whose views are actually in the center... Instead, a Democrat is considered centrist to the extent that he does what Mr. Lieberman does: lends his support to Republican talking points...

But this "center" cannot hold. And that's the larger lesson of what happened Friday. Mr. Lieberman has been playing to a Washington echo chamber that is increasingly out of touch with the country's real concerns. The nation, which rallied around Mr. Bush after 9/11 simply because he was there, has moved on — and it has left Mr. Lieberman behind.

And, as noted at the time, Brad DeLong appended the following to Krugman's column:

As Jonathan Chait writes:

Jonathan Chait: [L]ots of Democrats supported the Iraq war initially and believe now that we can and must win.... Lieberman, unlike other Democratic hawks, musters little passion for exposing and correcting the massive blunders the Bush administration has committed. When the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, Lieberman noted, in Bush's defense, "Those who were responsible for killing 3,000 Americans on Sept. 11, 2001, never apologized." (As if anybody was suggesting we were as bad as the terrorists.) Last fall he said, "In matters of war, we undermine presidential credibility at our nation's peril." The clear implication is that it's counterproductive -- traitorous, even -- to call the administration on its foreign policy dishonesties. This is not how the loyal opposition in a democracy ought to behave.

Foreign policy is hardly the only smudge on Lieberman's record.... He has long opposed sensible financial regulations. Even after his pro-business stance came under fire in the wake of the Enron scandal, Lieberman opposed sensible reforms. (As one of Lieberman's friends told the New Republic's Michael Crowley in 2002, "It'll be remembered that he didn't go off the deep end" -- meaning, after the populist furor dies down, Lieberman could resume raking in contributions from grateful executives.) He supported the disgraceful energy bill and federal intervention in the Terri Schiavo case.

Lieberman obviously relishes his role as every conservative's favorite Democrat. It's a mutually beneficial relationship. He's lavished with praise for his statesmanship, vision and bipartisanship. And, in the process, Republicans implicitly get to show what's wrong with the rest of his party. Bush and Dick Cheney applaud Lieberman regularly for believing we must win in Iraq, as if to suggest no other Democrat thinks the same...

Chait makes a pretty good case, along with Krugman, against Lieberman. The criticism of Lieberman's positions by other party members has merit. If he loses the primary because of it, that's the way it goes -- when people lost to him in the past they didn't run anyway as indepndents and undermine his chances.

It's too bad Lieberman has decided to reject the voter's and Party's judgment on who would be the best Democratic candidate by threatening to run as an independent if he loses the primary, but such behavior only serves to further undermine and impugn his character and reinforces that his allegiance to the party isn't very strong anyway.

    Posted by on Sunday, July 9, 2006 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Politics | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (19)

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