Lieberman The "peace" Democrats are
back. It's a dream come true for Karl Rove.
MARTIN PERETZ Monday, August 7, 2006
We have been here
before. Left-wing Democrats are once again fielding single-issue "peace
candidates," and the one in Connecticut, like several in the 1970s, is a
middle-aged patrician, seeking office de haut en bas, and almost
entirely because he can. It's really quite remarkable how someone like Ned
Lamont, from the stock of Morgan partner Thomas Lamont and that most high-born
American Stalinist, Corliss Lamont, still sends a chill of "having
arrived" up the spines of his suburban supporters simply by asking them to
support him. Superficially, one may think of those who thought they were
already middle class just by being enthusiasts of Franklin Roosevelt, who
descended from the Hudson River Dutch aristocracy. But when FDR ran for, and was
elected, president in 1932, he had already been a state senator, assistant
secretary of the Navy and governor of New York. He had demonstrated abilities.
At least in this sense,
Mr. Lamont comes to this campaign for the U.S. Senate from absolutely
nowhere--and it shows in his pulpy statements on public issues. Here is a
paradigmatic one: "We need to provide parents and communities the support
they need to assure that children start their school day ready to learn."
Of course, he also thinks that U.S. troops should be replaced by the
U.N. in Iraq. Does he know anything at all
about the history of the idea that he so foolishly rescues from the dust? So
what we have in this candidacy is someone, with no public record to speak of
but with perhaps a quarter of a billion dollars to his name, who wants to be a
senator. Mr. Lamont has almost no experience in public life. He was a cable
television entrepreneur, a run-of-the-mill contemporary commercant with
unusually easy access to capital.
does have one issue, and it is Iraq. He grasps little of the
complexities of his issue, but then this, too, is true of the genus of the
peace candidate. Peace candidates know only one thing, and that is why people
vote for them. I know the type well. I was present at its creation.
I was there, a partisan,
as a graduate student at the beginning, in 1962, when the eminent Harvard
historian H. Stuart Hughes (grandson of Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes) ran
for the U.S. Senate as an independent against George Cabot Lodge and the
victor, Ted Kennedy, a trio of what in the Ivies is, somewhat derisively,
called "legacies." Hughes's platform fixed on President John F.
Kennedy's belligerent policy towards Cuba, which had been crystallized in
fiasco. The campaign ended, however, with Hughes winning a dreary 1% of the
vote when Krushchev capitulated to JFK just before the election and brought the
missile crisis to an end, leaving Fidel Castro in power as an annoyance (which
he is still, though maybe not much longer), but not as a threat.
Later peace candidates did better.
Some were even elected. Vietnam was their card. One was even
nominated for president in 1972. George McGovern, a morally imperious
isolationist with fellow-traveling habits, never could shake the altogether
accurate analogies with Henry Wallace. (Wallace was the slightly dopey vice
president, dropped from the ticket by FDR in 1944, who ran for president on the
Progressive Party ticket, a creation of Stalin's agents in the U.S.) Mr.
McGovern's trouncing by Richard Nixon, a reprobate president if we ever had
one, augured the recessional--if not quite the collapse--of such Democratic
politics, which insisted our enemy in the Cold War was not the Soviets but us.
It was then that people
like Joe Lieberman emerged, muscular on defense, assertive in foreign policy,
genuinely liberal on social and economic matters, but not doctrinaire on
regulatory issues. He had marched for civil rights and is committed to an equal
opportunity agenda with equal opportunity results. He has qualms about
affirmative action. But who, in his hearts of hearts, does not? He is appalled
by the abysmal standards of our popular culture and our public discourse. Who
really loves our popular culture--or, at least, which parent? He is thoroughly
a Democrat. But Mr. Lieberman believes that, in an age of communal and global
stress, one would do well to speak with the president (even, on rare occasion,
speak well of him) and compromise with him on urgent matters of practical law.
Yes, Mr. Lieberman
sometimes sounds a bit treacly. He certainly is preachy, and advertises his
sense of his own righteousness. But he has also been brave, and bravery is a
rare trait in politicians, especially in states that are really true-blue or,
for that matter, really true-red. The blogosphere Democrats, whose victory Mr.
Lamont's will be if Mr. Lamont wins, have made Iraq the litmus test for incumbents.
There are many reasonable, and even correct, reproofs that one may have for the
conduct of the war. They are, to be sure, all retrospective. But one fault
cannot be attributed to the U.S., and that is that we are on the
wrong side. We are at war in a just cause, to protect the vulnerable masses of
the country from the helter-skelter ideological and religious mass-murderers in
their midst. Our enemies are not progressive peasants as was imagined three and
four decades ago.
If Mr. Lieberman goes
down, the thought-enforcers of the left will target other centrists as if the
center was the locus of a terrible heresy, an emphasis on national strength. Of
course, they cannot touch Hillary Clinton, who lists rightward and then
leftward so dexterously that she eludes positioning. Not so Mr. Lieberman. He
does not camouflage his opinions. He does not play for safety, which is why he
is now unsafe.
Now Mr. Lamont's views
are also not camouflaged. They are just simpleminded. Here, for instance, is
his take on what should be done about Iran's nuclear-weapons venture:
"We should work diplomatically and aggressively to give them reasons why
they don't need to build a bomb, to give them incentives. We have to engage in
very aggressive diplomacy. I'd like to bring in allies when we can. I'd like to
use carrots as well as sticks to see if we can change the nature of the
debate." Oh, I see. He thinks the problem is that they do not understand,
and so we should explain things to them, and then they will do the right thing.
It is a fortunate world that Mr. Lamont lives in, but it is not the real one.
Anyway, this sort of plying is precisely what has been going on for years, and
to no good effect. Mr. Lamont continues that "Lieberman is the one who
keeps talking about keeping the military option on the table." And what is
so plainly wrong with that? Would Mahmoud Ahmadinejad be more agreeable if he
thought that we had disposed of the military option in favor of more country
the contest in Connecticut tomorrow is about two views of
the world. Mr. Lamont's view is that there are very few antagonists whom we
cannot mollify or conciliate. Let's call this process by its correct name:
appeasement. The Greenwich entrepreneur might call it
"incentivization." Mr. Lieberman's view is that there are actually
enemies who, intoxicated by millennial delusions, are not open to rational and
reciprocal arbitration. Why should they be? After all, they inhabit a universe
of inevitability, rather like Nazis and communists, but with a religious
overgloss. Such armed doctrines, in Mr. Lieberman's view, need to be confronted
Almost every Democrat
feels obliged to offer fraternal solidarity to Israel, and Mr. Lamont is no exception.
But here, too, he blithely assumes that the Palestinians could be easily
conciliated. All that it would have needed was President Bush's attention. Mr.
Lamont has repeated the accusation, disproved by the "road map" and
Ariel Sharon's withdrawal from Gaza, that Mr. Bush paid little or
even no attention to the festering conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. And has Mr.
Lamont noticed that the Palestinians are now ruled, and by their own choice, by
Hamas? Is Hamas, too, just a few good arguments away from peace?
The Lamont ascendancy, if
that is what it is, means nothing other than that the left is trying, and in
places succeeding, to take back the Democratic Party. Jesse Jackson, Al
Sharpton and Maxine Waters have stumped for Mr. Lamont. As I say, we have been
here before. Ned Lamont is Karl Rove's dream come true. If he, and others of
his stripe, carry the day, the Democratic party will
lose the future, and deservedly. Mr. Peretz is
editor in chief of The NewRepublic.