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Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The Lieberman Problem

I've frequently admired the sane, Democratic centrism of New Republic editor Peter Beinart. He tends to argue in good faith, which results in a willingness to find fault with fellow partisans and common ground with opponents.
Case in point: his recent editorial on the leftist obsession with Joe Lieberman. Daily Kos, MoveOn and others have been urging opposition to Lieberman's re-election in Connecticut to the point of wooing former Senator Lowell Weicker to run against him in the primary. Beinart notes that charges of Lieberman being a conservative don't hold up when examining his voter ratings by liberal groups. But of course, all of that is water under the bridge after Lieberman's support of Iraq and unflinching belief that we are in a war against terror.

Beinart fisks Lieberman's statements and stances on issues relating to Iraq and finds that he is in the company of many other Democrats. This leads Beinart to the conclusion that Lieberman-hate isn't ideological, but rather a matter of temperament. His disdain for confrontation and desire to be liked, resulting in affection from sources diverse as Al Sharpton and uber-pariah George W. Bush, are the driving forces behind liberal resentment, Beinart argues. Not that Lieberman gets completely off the hook. Beinart finds fault with his qualified apology for Abu Ghraib (mentioning the lack of apology for 9/11). Beinart argues that "liberals have the right to measure the Bush administration against our vision of America, not merely against the reality of America's enemies. "

But then he pinpoints what I feel is the Achilles heel of the Democratic party:

Yet, if Lieberman's view is one-dimensional, so is that of his critics. If he only sees Bush through the prism of war, they only see the war through the prism of Bush--which is why they can muster so little anger at America's jihadist enemies and so little enthusiasm when Iraqis risk their lives to vote. Kos and MoveOn have conveniently convinced themselves that the war on terrorism is a mere subset of the struggle against the GOP. Whatever brings Democrats closer to power, ipso facto, makes the United States safer. That would be nice if it were true--but it's clearly not, because, sometimes, Bush is right, and because, to some degree, our safety depends on his success. National security will never be reducible to the interests of the Democratic Party.
Democrats can't just point to Republican failures in regard to intelligence, security and reconstruction in Iraq. There are valid criticisms to make, to be sure, but unless you present a compelling alternative, people will sniff out the political opportunism and withold trust (and votes) due to national security concerns. Case in point: the Nancy Pelosi rush to embrace John Murtha's call for an immediate withdrawal once polls showed declining support for the war. The entire episode revealed the divisions, rudderlessness, and opportunism within the party.

P.S. Beinart doesn't discuss one of the major reasons I've always suspected is behind so much Lieberman antipathy: because he is a (religously) conservative, practicing Jew who strongly supports Israel.

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