I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Why do neoconservative extremists love Joe Lieberman?

(updated below - updated again)

When it comes to the most significant political issues our country faces, there are few ideologues more extreme than Bill Kristol. Kristol is the personification of neoconservatism, having done more to agitate for an American invasion of Iraq, and for increased American involvement in wider Middle Eastern wars, than virtually anyone else. His Rupert Murdoch-funded Weekly Standard has become the warmongers' bible, as it routinely defends everything from a monarchical presidency (literally) to endless war.

Here is what Kristol says about Joe Lieberman in his new column, disgustingly entitled "Anti-war, Anti-Israel, Anti-Joe":

So even with a centrist Israeli government that is responding to a direct attack and not defending settlements in the territories, Democrats have adopted a "European" attitude toward Israel. And toward the United States. That is the meaning of Connecticut Democrats' likely repudiation of Joe Lieberman. What drives so many Democrats crazy about Lieberman is not simply his support for the Iraq war. It's that he's unashamedly pro-American.

That's almost too incoherent, too rhetorically desperate, even to object to -- Kristol actually devotes his whole column prior to that paragraph to the claim that Democrats have insufficient allegiance not to America, but to another country: Israel. Only after depicting Democrats as anti-Israel does he lurch abruptly and with no explanation into the absurd and tiresome smear that opposition to Lieberman is actually driven by opposition to Lieberman's being too "pro-American," whatever that might mean.

But the most noteworthy aspect of Kristol's column is what comes next, when Kristol plans Lieberman's post-Senate career:

There is a political opportunity for the Bush administration if the Democrats reject Lieberman. If he's then unable to win as an independent in November, he would make a fine secretary of defense for the remainder of the Bush years. . . . Is it too fanciful to speculate about a 2008 GOP ticket of McCain-Lieberman, or Giuliani Lieberman, or Romney-Lieberman, or Allen-Lieberman, or Gingrich-Lieberman? Perhaps. But a reinvigorated governing and war-fighting Republican party is surely an achievable goal. And a necessary one.

So, one of the most extreme neoconservative ideologues in the country not only supports Lieberman's candidacy, but appears to have Lieberman as his first choice for Defense Secretary -- the holy grail for war-loving neoconservatives -- and even for Vice President (alongside the likes of Newt Gingrich, George Allen or Mitt Romney).

The most bizarre and frustrating aspect of listening to discussions by the national media of the Lieberman race is the expression of surprise and anger over the fact that Democrats would want to eject Lieberman from the Senate. Imagine if there were a prominent Republican Senator in a primary fight and Michael Moore, or Al Franken, or Molly Ivins, or whoever was the most hated liberal of the moment made it one of their priorities to work for that GOP Senator's re-election, and even touted that Senator for Defense Secretary in a Democratic administration or as a vice-presidential nominee alongside Russ Feingold or Hillary Clinton.

Such a thought is just unimaginable. Republicans would never have anyone, certainly not in any position of prominence, who attracted the admiration and enthusiastic support of ideologues on the left. And yet here is Kristol desperately defending Lieberman by unleashing vicious smears on his opponents -- they're anti-Israel and anti-American -- and openly hoping that Lieberman becomes Defense Secretary or Vice President in a Republican administration. If Bill Kristol sees Lieberman as a leading light of the neoconservative wing of the Republican Party, why would anyone think it's at all surprising that Democrats would see him as something anathema to their party?

And it isn't just Kristol. The most enthusiastic supporters of Lieberman are not "moderate" Democrats, but are instead the most extreme Bush "conservatives." It is the Sean Hannitys and Michelle Malkins and Rush Limbaughs and Ann Coulters and Fred Barnes who consider Lieberman their ideological soulmate and who are most supportive of his candidacy. Why is that? Isn't the obvious answer because the issues that are most important to the country are (a) the endless, limitless "Global War of Civilizations" and (b) the radically enhanced police powers which that "War" justifies at home? In those areas, Joe Lieberman is as pure and reliable ally as it gets for the most extreme elements on the neoconservative Right.

The idea that Lieberman is some sort of "centrist Democrat" and that the effort to defeat him is driven by radical leftists who hate bipartisanship is nothing short of inane. Why would Sean Hannity and Bill Kristol be so eager to keep a "centrist Democrat" in the Senate? Lincoln Chafee is a "centrist Republican." Are there any Democrats or liberals who care if Lincoln Chafee wins his primary? Do leftist ideologues run around praising and defending and working for the re-election of Olympia Snowe or Chris Shays or other Republican "centrists"? Do Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity love other Democratic "centrists," such as, say, Mary Landrieu or Joe Biden? The answer to all of those questions is plainly "no".

The love which right-wing extremists have for Joe Lieberman isn't based on the fact that he's a "centrist." If Lieberman were a "centrist," extremists would not care about him. They would not be vigorously urging his re-election, or praising his potential appointment as Bush Defense Secretary, or touting him as a Vice-Presidential running mate for George Allen. They do that because he is one of them -- a neoconservative extremist who is with them on virtually every major issue of the day.

As I've written about before, neoconservatism -- primarily issues of militarism in Middle East and ever expanding government police power domestically -- has caused a political realignment that is fundamentally re-shaping the ideological spectrum:

Throughout the 1990s, one's political orientation was determined by a finite set of primarily domestic issues -- social spending, affirmative action, government regulation, gun control, welfare reform, abortion, gay rights. One's position on those issues determined whether one was conservative, liberal, moderate, etc. But those issues have become entirely secondary, at most, in our political debates. They are barely discussed any longer.

Instead, what has dominated our political conflicts over the last five years are terrorism-related issues -- Iraq, U.S. treatment of detainees, domestic surveillance, attacks on press freedoms, executive power abuses, Iran, the equating of dissent with treason. It is one's positions on those issues -- and, more specifically, whether one agrees with the neoconservative approach which has dominated the Bush administration's approach to those issues -- which now determines one's political orientation.

Alan Dershowitz recently wrote an Op-Ed -- appropriately enough in The Washington Times -- urging the confirmation of John Bolton as UN Ambassador. To give credibility to his argument, Dershowitz began the column this way: "As a liberal Democrat . . . " Does anyone believe that the advocate of "torture warrants" and counting innocent Arabs as half-civilians or quarter-civilians or not counting them at all -- and the new enthusiastic defender of John Bolton -- is even remotely close to being a "liberal Democrat" these days?

Dershowitz may have been a "liberal Democrat" in 1993, but in 2006, Dershowitz -- like Lieberman -- is pure neoconservative. It's the same reason that John Podhoretz's favorite new blogger is "centrist Democrat" Marty Peretz. And 1993 conservatives like Pat Buchanan, George Will and William Buckely are becoming increasingly alienated by the authoritarian neoconservatism of today precisely because it is a departure from the traditional conservatism to which they subscribe.

The United States is on the brink of extreme disaster in the Middle East, both in Iraq (where we have no viable exit strategy despite the rapid collapse of that country) and elsewhere (where we are poised to repeat the same mistakes on a much greater scale). And all of that has been used to justify unprecedented abridgments of basic liberties at home. The policies which brought us to this point were championed -- and still are championed -- by the Joe Liebermans and Bill Kristols and their neoconservative comrades. Where one stands on those issues is, far and away, the most important determinant of one's political character, and any residual doubts about where Lieberman fits on the political spectrum are fully resolved by reading Bill Kristol's full-scale defense and embrace of his candidacy.

UPDATE: I neglected to mention the unusually high (for Kristol) campaign contribution made by Kristol to Lieberman's campaign, the only contribution over $200 made by Kristol since 1998, and the only one made to a Democrat. Kristol -- along with many others -- obviously sees Lieberman as an important instrument in the advancement of neoconservatism. Why shouldn't opponents of neoconservatism see it the same way?

UPDATE II: Here is Newt Gingrich explaining this morning why he believes a Lieberman victory is so crucial to America's future.

UPDATE III: Based on the discussion in comments, and even Gingrich's comments, there is another notable aspect to this race which is accounting for so much of the intensity on both sides -- the complete failure to demonize Ned Lamont as some sort of radical, subversive, Vietnam-era pacifist.

Lamont is as much of a "regular guy" as it gets -- the nuclear family, his suburban dad awkwardness, the self-made business success, the complete lack of anything "radical" in his background. Having him be the face of the "anti-war" movement -- which is really the anti-neoconservatism movement -- demonstrates just how misleading it is to depict that movement as some fringe leftist radicalism. As I argued in this post on C&L last weekend, the so-called "anti-war" position has clearly become the solidly mainstream position, and it is neoconservative warmongering that is the fringe and radical position.

A Lamont victory -- indeed, Lamont himself -- provides a very visceral illustration of just how mainstream anti-war (and anti-neoconservative) sentiments are, which is a significant factor as to why a Lieberman victory has become so important for neoconservatives.

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