Thursday, August 10, 2006

The Radical Fringe of the Democratic Party

For nearly a year now, a steady 60% of Americans have believed that the war in Iraq was and is not worth fighting.

Among Democrats, well over 70% disagree with the decision to use our military to topple the Iraqi regime and feel that this debacle has hurt the "war on terrorism"; more than 60% feel we should bring the troops home now.

Yet a small but vocal (and powerful) fringe of the Democratic Party is spreading divisiveness and sowing discontent in its radical efforts to bolster support for a war that the majority of Americans feel is unnecessary. Senator Joe Lieberman is only the most prominent example of this fringe group, but an instructive one. The problem for the overwhelming majority of Democrats (and Americans) is simple but frightening: this radical group happens to be the one currently in power.

We'll have to leave to future historians the task of pondering how this group--including politicians like Lieberman and both Clintons and journalists like those writing for the New Republic--transformed themselves from respectable "centrists" to a fringe element. But one thing we need to stop now is this penchant for describing the sky as yellow and the sun as blue--that is, the dire need for folks like Dick Cheney and Karl Rove and Ken Mehlman to paint mainstream Americans as "out of touch" with themselves.

Let's reiterate what's really happening: it is a small, powerful group of pro-war elements who are trying to divide this country and subvert the will of the majority. And it is Lieberman, not Ned Lamont, who is attempting to sabotage his party by refusing to accept the legitimate result of the Connecticut primary.

Jacob Weisberg's latest article on Slate, in support of Lieberman, mirrors this attempt to convince the majority of Americans that they really represent some kind of fringe element. Safety-pinned in his soggy diapers from 1972, Weisberg attempts to compare Democrats to the hippie peaceniks of the 1960s and to supporters of McGovern. (Never mind that our initial involvement in Vietnam and the acceleration of the war were the pet projects of two Democratic presidents.)
Nixon had the gift of hippie demonstrators and fellow-traveling bluebloods like Ned's great uncle Corliss Lamont as antagonists. Today's Republicans face an anti-war movement with a different tone and style, including an electronic counterculture of enraged bloggers and callow entrepreneurs like Ned himself. Yet the underlying political dynamic is not altogether different.

Weisberg uses this rather unacademic bit of sociology as "evidence" for his thesis that "Democrats are poised to re-enact a version of the Vietnam-era drama that helped them lose five out six presidential elections between 1968 and the end of the Cold War."

This argument is not only ahistorical; it simply makes no sense. Exactly how did McGovern's candidacy harm Jimmy Carter's prospects for becoming president? Instead, as I mentioned earlier this week, one could just as relevantly--but with far more evidence and immediacy--argue that Carter's centrism (i.e., "malaise") destroyed the Democratic Party's prospects in presidential elections. Both positions are similarly illogical and equally anachronistic.

Weisberg concedes that

The invasion of Iraq was, in ways that have since become hard to dispute, a terrible mistake. There were no weapons of mass destruction to be dismantled, we had no plan for occupying the country, and our troops remain there only to prevent the civil war we unleashed from turning into a bigger and more horrific civil war.
In spite of this rather strong condemnation, he offers no alternative but instead implies that we should continue to support those politicians who encouraged and mismanaged the war. His underlying argument, as Digby points out, is that
if somebody wants to wage a cynical, immoral, useless war for no good reason, Democrats simply have to go along with it if they want to be taken seriously.
Finally, Weisberg bizarrely (and dishonestly) argues many Americans do "not to take the wider, global battle against Islamic fanaticism seriously"--and he makes this claim without explaining what in the hell he means or who in the hell thinks this way.

It is far more accurate to say that Americans clearly (and correctly) believe that supporters of our Iraq policy have abandoned the "global battle" for an ill-advised, ill-planned, and ill-executed military excursion that we never have any chance of "winning" (however that word is defined). As Mark Schmitt writes in response:
It is a perfectly reasonable position to support ending the U.S. involvement in Iraq as quickly as possible, while strongly advocating the sort of engagement in Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere that would be part of "the fight against global jihad," if you want to put it that way.
Instead of pursuing the real "battle against Islamic fanaticism," Lieberman, along with his powerful Republican allies and many of his Democratic colleagues, have irrationally hijacked the process, forgetting our original (and laudable) missions against Osama bin Laden and in the now-disintegrating Afghanistan. To the chagrin of the majority of Americans, in place of that legitimate purpose, this fringe element has launched a new counterculture of their own: a series of high-risk military adventures with no goal in mind and no end in sight.