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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Lieberman’s Descent

At John Hopkins’s School for Advanced International Studies (SAIS) yesterday, Sen. Joe Lieberman delivered a speech on foreign policy and partisanship that seemed designed to validate everything his Democratic critics have said about him over the last few years, and to humiliate Democrats who have defended him (and I count myself in this group, though not since his loss to Ned Lamont in Connecticut in the Democratic primary last year).
Press accounts reported that at some point (probably a post-speech Q&A) Lieberman said he might not support the Democratic presidential nominee in 2008. But the speech itself pointed more than sufficiently in that direction. Its essence was to define a “muscular” FDR/Truman/JFK Democratic foreign policy, on which the two parties have repeatedly reversed roles, with Republicans currently “for” and Democrats “against.” Joe Lieberman himself, the speech suggests, seems to be the only consistent advocate for that tradition, emulating the brave example of Democrat-turned-Republican-advisor Paul Nitze, whose name is attached to SAIS.
I really encourage Democrats who have defended Lieberman in the past to read this speech. It provides an exceptionally simplistic and mechanical history of partisanship and foreign policy. Democrats were “good” from World War II until Vietnam, and Republicans tended to be “bad.” Democrats were “bad” from Vietnam to the First Gulf War, and Republicans were “good.” During the Clinton administration, and particularly with respect to the Kosovo intervention, Democrats were “good” and most Republicans (excepting Dole and McCain) were “bad,” and that characterization remained true during the 2000 elections (Lieberman’s running-mate Al Gore “good,” the humility-in-foreign-policy Bush “bad”). Both parties were “good” from 9/11 through the Iraq War authorization, but once the war began, Republicans were “good” and Democrats turned “bad” (presumably including Al Gore, who was prematurely “bad” in opposing the war).
These judgments appear based on an interpretation of the “muscular” Democratic foreign policy tradition that’s all about the willingness to use military force, and a rhetorical commitment to democracy-promotion and tyranny-denouncing. You’d never know from Lieberman’s speech that the Democratic tradition he’s pretending to uniquely defend had a lot to do with multilateralism, collective security, international institutions, diplomacy, non-military means, human rights, bipartisanship, and the rule of law–all parts of the tradition that Bush and contemporary Republicans have aggressively rejected, and that today’s Democrats explicitly support. You’d also never know, since Lieberman never acknowledges it, that the leading Democratic presidential candidates don’t simply identify themselves with opposition to Bush on Iraq and Iran, but have offered their own detailed national security plans which take Islamic jihadism quite seriously as a threat.
In other words, Lieberman’s speech is less a rebuke to the “‘antiwar” Democrats who helped deny him the party’s nomination to the Senate in 2006, than a challenge to liberal internationalists whom he places on the wrong side of a choice between preemptive unilateralism and isolationism and chaos. This is one occasion on which so-called “liberal hawks” need to take the lead in repudiating Joe. As Sam Boyd at TAPPED suggests, in an essentially accurate if exaggerated view, Lieberman is saying “you’re either with Norman Podheretz, or with Noam Chomsky.”
Democrats who vehemently deny this false choice should be in the forefront of those vehemently denouncing Joe Lieberman’s latest descent into full-bore neoconservatism, which isn’t just about foreign policy, but about the wilfull subjection of every progressive instinct on every issue to the monomaniacal drive for warfare against every enemy, foreign or domestic.

3 comments on “Lieberman’s Descent

  1. piotrek on

    I must say, after having a choice “be a Norman or a Noam” I am inclined to give Noam a serious second look.
    I found links about Virginia somewhat related. Are we on the side of progress, and hence, development, or are we against development?
    For many years conservative voters in Virginia were happy with GOP, and then in some counties they changed views against the “development”.
    Is development good or bad? Astonishingly, even
    conservative voters sometimes look at the facts rather than principles. Are we getting new exciting shopping opportunities, or traffic gridlock, and if a combination of the two, is it a good combination?
    Then a realization can come that principles that are oblivious to facts are not all that good.

  2. ducdebrabant on

    I started to suspect Lieberman was a quisling as far back as 2000, when the Republicans wanted to count overseas absentee ballots in Florida from places with European military bases (they couldn’t always be assumed to be from soldiers, in fact) which were so fraught with irregularities that sometimes they weren’t even signed, or were postmarked AFTER election day. Lieberman supported their efforts. If he’d expended an ounce of the supposed outrage on Dick Cheney that year that he so easily now turns into vitriol for other Democrats, he might have actually helped the ticket. Ah, but then he couldn’t have run himself 4 years later. I had to swallow hard a bit when Gore picked him, because he was already a toadie to the financial industry and a supporter of censoring the arts. I just told myself that Tipper had backed off that, and so would he. Maybe he has, but he’s definitely found other right wing causes to love. The DNC should have supported Lamont to the hilt. I was extremely embarrassed when my own Senator, Schumer, wouldn’t even express pro forma support for the winner of the Democratic primary.

  3. Badger on

    You know, I think Joe’s a good Democrat on most issues, but he has a crazy blind spot when it comes to the war in Iraq and foreign policy in general. I’m afraid in those areas he’s a lost cause.


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