On most issues of political significance, the national pundit class settles on some banal line of conventional wisdom that its most slothful members mindlessly recite on television and in print. Yesterday, the incomparably conventional Cokie Roberts illustrated that syndrome when she used her time on ABC's "This Week " to claim that the defeat of Joe Lieberman would be -- all together now -- "a disaster for the Democratic Party" because it would be "pushing the party to the left."
Following right along, New Republic publisher Marty Peretz went to the Op-Ed page of the Wall Street Journal this morning and unleashed one political cliché after the next in order to make the same point. According to Peretz, Lieberman opponent Ned Lamont is the new George McGovern and is part of "Karl Rove's dream team." Lamont's candidacy "means nothing other than that the left is trying, and in places succeeding, to take back the Democratic Party." To illustrate the frightening elements of radicalism behind this political threat, Peretz invokes "Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and Maxine Waters" -- and only them -- and then darkly warns that if Lamont and "others of his stripe, carry the day, the Democratic party will lose the future, and deservedly."
It is nothing short of surreal to listen to pundits like Roberts and Peretz insist that opposition to the Iraq war will doom the Democratic Party. For more than a year, poll after poll (pdf) has demonstrated that a solid majority of Americans oppose this war and believe it was a mistake. It is due primarily to this deep and still-growing antiwar sentiment that George W. Bush's presidency has all but collapsed, sending his approval ratings to near historic lows.
For that reason, Peretz copies the bizarre method used by almost every pundit who wants to equate a Lamont victory with doomsday for the Democrats. That is, he devotes his entire column to a purported discussion of the politics of the Iraq war without ever once mentioning or even alluding to the most significant fact: what the American electorate thinks about the war. The reason for that omission is self-evident. Americans have decisively turned against the war that neoconservative warriors like Peretz gave us and that Beltway pundits like Roberts enabled -- a fact that these pro-war commentators intently and astoundingly just ignore.
Thus, in the world occupied by people like Peretz and Roberts, only "left-wing radicals" are "antiwar" -- that view is the province of Maxine Waters and crazed bloggers -- while the serious, responsible, mainstream folk (like them) still support the commander in chief's difficult though noble decision to invade Iraq and to courageously slog on with the occupation. Facts and polls -- which have long demonstrated exactly the opposite -- be damned.
Worse still, it seems that Peretz and Roberts have also failed -- or chosen not -- to notice that Iraq is rapidly falling apart. Even the administration's top generals are now forced to concede (albeit with euphemisms) that a sectarian civil war is engulfing that country. Its elected government has far more allegiance to Iran than to the U.S., and even its Shiite population -- those who benefited most from our invasion -- are taking to the streets by the hundreds of thousands to stage anti-American and anti-Israeli protests. It is virtually impossible to see how this war will ever become more popular, but easy to see how it will become more unpopular still. Under the circumstances, opposing this failed and unpopular war appears to be anything but political suicide. To the contrary, emphatic opposition to this war is, far and away, the Democrats' strongest political weapon. The war in Iraq, from start to finish, belongs to Bush and his unfailingly loyal Republican congressional allies. Strong, clear Democratic opposition to the war will enable Americans to use the 2006 election to express their anger over this war. For those who live in a world of facts and reality and not a self-contained Beltway bubble, a referendum on the deeply unpopular war is one that Democrats will win decisively.
The fatal flaw of John Kerry that Republicans relentlessly exploited in 2004 was not his steadfast opposition to the war -- that did not exist -- but, instead, his muddled, confused and inconsistent views about the war. Kerry cautiously opposed the war without opposing it, because he listened to Beltway warnings (identical to those offered by Peretz and Roberts) that opposition to an unpopular war would somehow drive away all but the most radical Americans.
For Democrats, there is no smarter choice, no more urgent political priority, than to stop listening to the staid, fact-free counsel of the likes of Marty Peretz and Cokie Roberts and, instead, begin listening to what the majority of Americans are saying. They long ago turned against this war and the neoconservative premises used to justify it. The defeat of Joe Lieberman will demonstrate that Democrats are prepared, finally, to take a strong and decisive stand on these issues, one that is shared by most Americans outside of the Beltway.