David Brooks had a laughable column in Sunday’s New York Times.
“What’s happening to Lieberman can only be described as a liberal inquisition,” Brooks proclaims. What Brooks characterizes as an “inquisition” — an effort, as he puts it, “to expel Joe Lieberman from modern liberalism”– is simply a spirited effort to elect a Senator who better represents the values of Connecticut’s citizens. That’s not ideological purity . It’s about organized people holding accountable a legislator who has acted as an unflinching supporter of this disastrous war.
Brooks–who likes to play populist–can’t hide his contempt for the ordinary citizen-voters of Connecticut. Apparently, he’s forgotten what elections are about. He derides “fundamentalists of both parties who believe that politics should be about party discipline, passion, purity, orthodoxy or clear choices.” What’s wrong about a politics that gives voters “clear choices”? As Washington Post columnist Harold Meyerson put it, “Now, maybe I’ve had this backward all my life, but I thought that elections were held to enable voters to choose between candidates espousing different points of view on the most important issues.” What’s wrong with bringing some passion back into our politics, which has been dominated for too long by inside-the-beltway, well-paid consultants and pollsters.
Then there’s Brooks’ weird reference to “upscale revivalists on the left [who] reduce everything to Iraq, and all who are deemed impure must be cleansed away.” Well, if you put it that way there sure are a lot of left-wing revivalists in Connecticut. The latest polls show 60 percent of voters in that state are against the war. As the Nation‘s John Nichols reported last week, “few states register higher antiwar sentiment than does Connecticut and the distaste for the occupation extends far beyond the Democratic base to include independents and quite a few Republicans.” ( Brooks doesn’t bother to acknowledge that Lieberman’s primary opponent Ned Lamont is closer to Connecticut’s mainstream than the incumbent Senator.)
It’s certainly true that the war is the defining issue. How could it not be? And while almost 100 percent of the Democratic caucus in the Senate tries to find a way out of this debacle, (a handful more courageously than others) Lieberman remains an unflinching cheerleader for Bush–giving cover to this White House’s poisonously partisan use of the war.
But it’s not just about the war–as Brooks and other Lieberman supporters would have you believe. It’s also about Lieberman’s uncanny willingness to go out of his way to give Bush and the Republicans political cover in their attempts to define the Democratic Party as weak or incapable of governing. Instead of fighting back, Lieberman legitimizes these attacks. For example, when asked about Democrats who vocally oppose the President at a time of war, Lieberman said, “in matters of war we undermine Presidential credibility at our nation’s peril.”
Say what? Is Lieberman really saying, Harold Meyerson asks, “[that] to criticize Bush on the war is partisan, while refusing to criticize Bush on the war affirms the national interest?” And this wasn’t just a disagreement on the war with many Democrats – Lieberman actually gave Bush cover for the idea that those who dare to criticize his handling of the war are un-American. (That would include a majority of independents, by the way.)
And, at the end of June, when Republicans scheduled Senate votes aimed at depicting Democrats in an election year as “cut and run” cowards, Lieberman was the first to speak during the Republicans’ time. What did the Democratic Senator from Connecticut do? Lieberman dumped on the Democrats, showing that he was willing to be used to depict his fellow Democrats as weak.
Nor did Lieberman stand with his party in vigorously opposing Bush’s Social Security privatization plan. As Josh Marshall’s TalkingPointsmemo.com has reported, when Bush announced his privatization plan Lieberman said in February 2005 that he was undecided, and announced that he wanted to study the president’s idea. The result: Lieberman helped Bush make privatization a legitimate subject of debate – when it should have been cast off as extreme.
Lieberman has also been the Democratic Party’s point person on defending off-the-books, short term stock options for CEOs. This invitation to thievery resulted, as was predicted, in the plundering of corporations–to the detriment of employees and small investors. But, even after the worst corporate crime scandals since the Gilded Age, Lieberman defended these practices and continued to collect big time campaign contributions from executives in Silicon Valley and elsewhere who were cleaning up.
What David Brooks fails to recognize is that millions of Connecticut citizens have decided they want a Senator whose values accord with theirs. That has little to do, as Brooks would have you believe, with the oft-maligned netroots seeking “to purge what’s left of the Scoop Jackson Democrats.” It’s about a renewed recognition that people can make a difference and choose leaders who actually represent them. Ned Lamont–imperfections and all (have you ever met a perfect politician?) — is mounting a very strong challenge and deserves credit for helping to lead that charge. So do thousands of students, activists, principled citizens–including former Lieberman supporters–who have had enough.