In my last column, I wrote of the recent right-wing infatuation with Hillary Clinton, dubbed “the Lieberman of the Democratic party” by National Review‘s Rich Lowry. Now let’s take a look at the qualities in Lieberman himself that our pundits so admire.
Though he ran as an “independent Democrat” and bragged of his deep connection to traditional Democratic interest groups, Lieberman has finally come out of his private closet as a right-wing Republican, not merely endorsing John McCain for President but embracing virtually every accusation against Barack Obama that Republican operatives can manufacture.
Roll the clock back to 2006, when the punditocracy saw apocalypse in Lieberman’s impending primary defeat. Pundit “dean” David Broder bemoaned the “terrible tug” of a Ned Lamont victory. Slate‘s Jacob Weisberg complained that “the 2006 Connecticut primary points to the growing influence within the party of leftists unmoved by the fight against global jihad.” Martin Peretz denounced the “thought-enforcers of the left,” and Lanny Davis detected evidence of “liberal McCarthyism.” These were polite ripostes compared with those heard on cable news, however, where CNN anchor Chuck Roberts termed Lamont “the Al Qaeda candidate” (before apologizing) and Fox’s John Gibson explained, “The Khmer Rouge wing of the Democratic Party is making a bid for a complete takeover.” And yet even these comments somehow paled in comparison with the complaints of The New Republic‘s Jonathan Chait, who decried the “pack of crazed, ignorant ideological cannibals”–a description he attributed to “Lieberman’s Allies”–“fanatics” operating on the basis of a “paranoid, Manichean worldview brimming with humorless rage”–a characterization he embraced as his own.
Lieberman’s blinkered critique of the Democrats–offered in a speech at a dinner for Commentary magazine and published in op-ed form in the Wall Street Journal–is a stale, forty-year-old whine that could have been written by any member of the extended Kristol/Podhoretz mishpocheh with nary a comma moved. More emotive than historical, it oversimplifies and mischaracterizes the past fifty years of US foreign policy to a degree that might have impressed Soviet ideologist Mikhail Suslov. Lieberman, for instance, seems not to know that Franklin Roosevelt allied himself with the Soviet Union, or that John F. Kennedy never committed to full-scale war in Vietnam. Meanwhile, he complains, Obama has “embraced our worst enemies.”
What is perhaps strangest about Lieberman’s antiliberal jihad is that the very changes he professes to detest in Democrats were once embodied in one Joe Lieberman. While Tailgunner Joe identifies the 1970s as the period his party went off the rails, he does not mention that he himself was a founding member of the leftist Caucus of Connecticut Democrats, as well as a diehard supporter of the Rev. Joe Duffey’s 1970 primary challenge to hawkish Democratic Senator Thomas Dodd. A Vietnam draft-evader, Lieberman won his State Senate seat in 1970 on an antiwar platform. Perhaps more shocking, as Joe Conason noted in Salon, is the fact that the same year he published a book of cold war history titled The Scorpion and the Tarantula that neocon Ira Stoll derided as a “masterpiece of moral equivalency.”
Wait–it gets better. At a time when many Lieberman supporters worry incessantly about the rise of anti-Semitism they perceive in American political life, Lieberman–acting undoubtedly out of cravenness rather than ideological sympathy–has lent aid and comfort to some egregious anti-Semites. Not only has he proved an energetic apologist for the Rev. John Hagee–a man who thinks Hitler was a “hunter” sent by God “to get [the Jews] to come back to the land of Israel”–he is scheduled to give the keynote address at Christians United for Israel’s “Washington-Israel Summit” in July. And during the 2000 election, he even championed the cause of Louis Farrakahn, who believes Hitler to have been a “great man” and Judaism a “gutter religion.” True, Lieberman averred, “Minister Farrakhan said a few things earlier…that were just not informed.” But even so, he continued to “have respect for him,” and wished to meet with him.
Lieberman’s skills as a military analyst are of a piece with his talent as a historian. For instance, during the 2006 campaign, he pronounced himself “confident” that the United States would be able to reduce its military presence by more than 50 percent by the end of 2007. Instead, of course, the troop numbers increased with the “surge”–an escalation he has championed–and remains higher than at the moment he made his confident prediction.
So how is it that this dove-turned-hawk, Democrat-turned-Republican apologist for anti-Semitism has become the hero of the Kristol/Podhoretz/Commentary/Wall Street Journal/Weekly Standard/New Republic/Slate neocon/liberal hawk crowd? Perhaps the answer is that Lieberman’s erstwhile champions never really paid much attention to what he said. What they cherished in Lieberman was not his intelligence or his integrity but his enemies: the liberals, whether of the Al Qaeda, Khmer Rouge or cannibalistic variety.
The Nixonian stoking of hatred toward liberals (and often minorities as well) has become a staple of conservative campaigns and their MSM cheerleaders. Explaining his support for Bush’s invasion of Iraq, Andrew Sullivan, who has since raised the specter of war crimes trials for his former heroes, says he associated opposition to the war “with the far left…and was revolted by the anti-war marches I saw in Washington. I became much too concerned with fighting that old internal ideological battle.” His confession echoed that of another fan of Joe McCarthy, Irving Kristol, who wrote in 1993: “So far from having ended, my cold war has increased in intensity, as sector after sector of American life has been ruthlessly corrupted by the liberal ethos…. Now that the other ‘Cold War’ is over, the real cold war has begun.” The more things change…