When Michael Kinsley was editor of The New Republic, he used to joke that they should change the name to “Even The Liberal New Republic”. I was reminded of this when someone sent me an article by Glenn Greenwald, “Even The New Republic Now Calls for a Party Purge of Corporate-Owned ‘Centrists’”, published by Salon.com on August 28th. (I used to read Salon, but I no longer do, as I consider Greenwald and editor Joan Walsh to be intellectual lightweights.) I reproduce the beginning of the article below, followed by my commentary.
The New Republic, 2004, endorsing Joe Lieberman for President:
“But one day, Joe Lieberman’s warnings in this campaign will look prophetic. And the principles he has espoused will once again guide the Democratic Party. It will be the work of this magazine, to whatever small degree possible, to hasten that day.”
TNR’s Jonathan Chait, in The Los Angeles Times, 2006, viciously condemning those who mounted a primary challenge against Lieberman (an “anti-Lieberman jihad”) :
“[T]he anti-Lieberman campaign has come to stand for much more than Lieberman’s sins. It’s a test of strength for the new breed of left-wing activists who are flexing their muscles within the party. These are exactly the sorts of fanatics who tore the party apart in the late 1960s and early 1970s. They think in simple slogans and refuse to tolerate any ideological dissent.”
TNR’s Chait, last month:
“A few weeks ago, Senator Dianne Feinstein announced that she and other Senate Democrats harbored reservations about President Obama’s plans to overhaul the health care system. . . . The reaction from the left was swift and, by the standards of such things, furious. Which is to say, not very furious. . . .
I have a suggestion for something that would be productive: run a primary challenge against her. . . . The possibility of a primary challenge could [also] balance out [Sen. Evan] Bayh’s incentives, thus aligning them more with those of the national party. . . . Primary electorates consist of a small, highly partisan subset of the electorate, and the prospect of submitting themselves to a partisan loyalty contest terrifies centrists like Bayh.”
TNR’s Chait, this week :
“But if health care reform fails, liberals need to understand who to blame and how to fix it. They need to start knocking off Democrats like Conrad and Joe Lieberman, who seem to be trying to kill health care reform, even if this temporarily costs the Democrats some seats. . . . If health care reform can’t pass now, then a filibuster-proof Democratic majority isn’t worth having. At that point you have to consider blowing up the party and waiting a decade or two to rebuild a new one that’s able to address the country’s actual needs.”
My, what a rapid and total reversal — one effectuated without the slightest acknowledgment that it even occurred. But that’s just the accountability-free nature of Beltway punditry. There’s a more important point highlighted here: namely, it is a sign of how dysfunctional the Democratic Party is — and how meaningless is their glorious super-majority — that even The New Republic, which long prided itself on safeguarding the Party from nefarious left-wing influences, is now calling for “centrist” Democratic Senators (even including Joe Lieberman) to be thrown out of office by means of primary challenges (I believe that was once called a “purity purge”), even if doing so results in a loss of Democratic seats. Chait’s rationale is that allowing “centrist” dominance within the party means that the same corporate interests (rather than the interests of constituents) and the same political agenda end up being served regardless of which party is in control, meaning that — as he put it — even “a filibuster-proof Democratic majority isn’t worth having” because nothing meaningful changes. You don’t say.
That, of course, was exactly the motivating premise of those who sought to remove Joe Lieberman from the Senate in 2006 — the people Chait demonized back then as “left-wing fanatics” who “refuse to tolerate any ideological dissent.” That was also the animating principle behind the founding last year of Accountability Now , largely designed to recruit and enable meaningful primary challenges against corrupt, unaccountable, and worthless corporate-serving incumbents. …
Here are my comments.
a) The successful campaign by Ned Lamont against Lieberman in the 2006 Democratic primary was motivated solely by Lieberman’s hawkish stance on the Iraq war. He retained the support of African-Americans and unions, who paid more attention to his domestic voting record than to Net Roots. Barack Obama campaigned for him. His domestic voting record was virtually identical to that of his Senate colleague, Chris Dodd.
b) Lieberman’s decision to run (successfully) in the general election as an Independent Democrat was motivated in part by his strong ego. (Please let me know me if you find a senator who doesn’t have one.) However, he caucused with the Democrats in 2007 and 2008, allowing them to maintain control of the Senate.
c) Lieberman’s campaigning with John McCain and speaking at the Republican National Convention was a bit over the top, to be sure. His “mirror image” in the Senate, Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, a vocal opponent of the war, did not endorse Obama in the presidential race. After the election, Obama saw to it that Lieberman retained his chairmanship of the Homeland Security Committee. After all, the Department of Homeland Security was his “baby”‘.
d) The current flap over health care reform involving Lieberman, Feinstein and others, is a different matter. Does their failure to join the health care stampede make them “corrupt, unaccountable, and worthless corporate-serving incumbents”. Certainly not! I believe both Lieberman and Feinstein to be people of the utmost integrity. I’m afraid I can’t say the same about Harry Reid or Nancy Pelosi.
I have written many posts about Lieberman. I have to confess he is my favorite politician.