Friday, June 23, 2006

Mark Schmitt on Lieberman - the Problem of Opposition

It is interesting to read the various criticisms of Joe Lieberman in the blogosphere. The hysteria of the dKos/Eschaton/FDL variety wears very thin, very fast. Not being from CT, I'm not invested in the race, nor am I pleased by out-of-state operations targeting particular office holders for defeat. The reporting on the race is more innuendo than fact. Ned Lamont seems like a decent, if unexceptional, candidate who would probably do a good job in the Senate. I think some prominent Democrats are right to be worried that the Krew will be targeting them next. Overall, I think the "netroots" assault on Lieberman is effective not because it makes any substantive case for Lamont, but because it mobilizes resentment against Lieberman. It feels like a Rovian smear campaign in many ways, and I think this is what is getting hackles up, even from people like myself who have no great liking for Holy Joe.

But Mark Schmitt, on TPM Cafe this morning, offers a deeper and more telling criticism of Lieberman, one which, to my mind, points to a fault line in the Democratic Party itself. The entire post is measured, generous and humane. After detailing the many reasons why he should support Lieberman as a candidate, Schmitt says,
So I ought to be a Lieberman “dead-ender.” I’ve respected him for 30-some years, I don’t mind his idiosyncratic positions, I don’t demand party loyalty, and I don’t insist on any particular position on how to end the war. But I’m not. Because something happened to Lieberman, and it’s more than his position on the war. It is not, as John Dickerson wrote on Slate this week that he “symbolizes” all the other Democrats who voted for the war or won’t take a firm stand. Above all else, it’s simply his self-righteous anger, his hostility to those who differ. He alone among Democrats seem to think that opponents of the war are not just mistaken, but will cause us to lose. (Just as he alone can continue to describe the choice in the war as “winning” or “losing,” as if “winning” were somehow still possible, as opposed to salvaging a bad situation.) He alone would say something like, “”We criticize the commander-in-chief at our own peril.” And he alone would suggest, as he did to David Broder, that Democrats who criticized Bush on the war were acting from "partisan interest" while he was thinking of "the national interest." He alone seems more focused on what he sees as the errors of the war’s opponents than those who launched the war. As Michael Tomasky said of Peter Beinart’s New Republic position on the Iraq War, it was not so much that they supported the war as that they “opposed the opposers.”

Opposing the opposers. This is important. This is the theoretical ground the neocons and certain people on the left hold in common - that the problem is not what the opponents want, but that they are opponents at all. The mutual fantasy that the right and the self-conscious left share is that somehow the opposition of the 60's radicals was in and of itself the problem. The right has made it into an ur-myth about the internal enemy of the state, and the Democrats have wasted much time and effort trying to deny that, well, they were right to oppose.

This has become an automatic reflex in some Democratic circles, and looks for cover within reasonable calls to moderation and caution. Rethugs have been jerking this chain for far too long. To be in opposition is to be outside the pale of reasonable discourse. It is dangerous not just to the Democrats, but to the nation itself, because it cannot help but increasingly circumscribe the scope of acceptable discourse and policy.

This is why, even as I read and appreciate a lot of what comes out of the DLC, I can't be as distressed as Mr. Kilgore over the prospect of prominent centrist candidates being challenged, even defeated, as a result of a (still only potentially) successful campaign against Lieberman. The candidates who will lose are those who are not dedicated to the principle of a loyal opposition, who sound like recordings of Andrew Sullivan calling into question the loyalty and sanity of those who oppose business as usual.

While the excessive attitude of a chunk of the blogosphere is annoying as all hell and is far too close to the rhetoric and behavior of the neocons, there is something profoundly right about rejecting candidates, pundits and political talking heads generally who demonize the opposition for being opponents. The foundation of modern democracy is making the boundaries of legitimate opinion as expansive as possible. The core of authoritarian fascism is eliminating the possibility of diverging opinion. Given the polarization of politics in the US, brought about in most part by the authoritarian goals of neocons, theocons and nativists, those who have no truck with opposition are an increasing danger to the left.

And that's why Holy Joe must go.


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