The overthrow of Joe Lieberman has intensified the anxieties of the Republican establishment and their friends in Washington's professional chattering class. This week they were full of furious insults, dire predictions and brazen lies about the political uprising of those well-heeled peasants in Connecticut who dared to ignore the conventional wisdom and did what they felt was best for country and party.
Not surprisingly, the most vicious and partisan attacks emanate from those same statesmen and intellectuals whose propensity for fear-mongering and falsifying first led us into the Iraq quagmire. They hate being held to account for the catastrophe they authored, which is why they again stoop to questioning the patriotism of their critics -- in this instance, the ordinary voters who went to the polls to register their dissent from George W. Bush's war.
So Vice President Dick Cheney claims that those Connecticut voters -- many of whom lost neighbors and friends on 9/11 -- encouraged "the al-Qaida types" by supposedly endorsing the "notion that somehow we can retreat behind our oceans and not be actively engaged in this conflict and be safe here at home." Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman accuses "national Democrat leaders" of "defeatism, isolationism, and blaming America first." And Weekly Standard editor William Kristol charges that those voters didn't really dump Lieberman because of his position on the war, but because "he's unashamedly pro-American." (Either those leafy suburbs are crawling with subversives, or Kristol is a nasty little McCarthyite.)
Such slurs and slanders were only to be expected from the ruffled chicken hawks, squawking over the potential loss of their favorite Democratic enabler and scared of the electorate's growing wrath. Equally predictable was the reaction of pundits and analysts, shocked by the diminishing impact of their bad advice and incoherent ideas. The great and the good of the punditocracy told the voters to shun Ned Lamont and to shut up about the war, and were duly ignored. Now those naughty children will pay the price, or so we are told.
In Time magazine, Mike Allen regurgitates the Republican line on Lieberman's defeat: "The Democrats' rejection of a sensible, moralistic centrist has handed the GOP a weapon that could have vast ramifications for both the midterm elections of '06 and the big dance of '08." A Democratic primary in Connecticut is quite unlikely to augur "vast ramifications" for anything that happens two years hence, but never mind. What is most astonishing about Allen's analysis is that he ignores the stunning verdict on Lieberman delivered by his own colleagues, which showed exactly why he was anything but "sensible" on the issue of the war.
It was Michael Ware, Time's Baghdad bureau chief, who provided the single most pungent assessment of the "centrist" senator last November. In an interview broadcast on Air America's morning show, the reporter recalled his puzzling encounter with the sunny, silly optimist so beloved by the White House:
"I and some other journalists had lunch with Senator Joe Lieberman the other day and we listened to him talking about Iraq. Either Senator Lieberman is so divorced from reality that he's completely lost the plot, or he knows he's spinning a line. Because one of my colleagues turned to me in the middle of this lunch and said he's not talking about any country I've ever been to and yet he was talking about Iraq, the very country where we were sitting."
In other words, Lieberman lacked credibility with voters on the most critical issue of the moment. He may pretend now to be a "critic" of the White House, but that isn't why Karl Rove has been calling every day since the primary to offer his support and best wishes.
Such basic facts and clear perceptions present no intellectual obstacle to the shrewd purveyors of Beltway spin. Consider Jacob Weisberg, the editor of Slate, who published a breathtakingly dishonest attack on Lamont's supporters:
"The problem for the Democrats is that the anti-Lieberman insurgents go far beyond simply opposing Bush's faulty rationale for the war, his dishonest argumentation for it, and his incompetent execution of it. Many of them appear not to take the wider, global battle against Islamic fanaticism seriously."
He provides no evidence for that bit of Rovian smear, because there is none. The same liberal bloggers who backed Lamont are helping former Navy secretary Jim Webb in the Virginia Senate race and Democratic veterans in several congressional races. It would be amusing to hear the Slate editor tell them they aren't tough enough.
As one of the "liberal hawks" who helped to sell the Iraq war, Weisberg has since changed his mind, but he cannot tolerate the public repudiation of his terrible mistake.
"Just about everyone now agrees that the sooner we find a way to withdraw, the better for us and for the Iraqis," Weisberg says. But if everyone agreed about the need to get out as soon as possible, the voters wouldn't be infuriated with Bush -- and would not need to express that sentiment by dumping Lieberman.
More than two years ago, Weisberg began to express qualms about the war that he and his writers had promoted so insouciantly. Sooner than some who now share his doubts, he admitted that things weren't working out so well. In a January 2004 symposium published on Slate, he explained why he was worried. His reasons included "the huge and growing cost of the invasion and occupation: in American lives (we're about to hit 500 dead and several thousand more have been injured); in money (more than $160 billion in borrowed funds); and in terms of lost opportunity (we might have found Osama Bin Laden by now if we'd committed some of those resources to Afghanistan). Most significant are the least tangible costs: increased hatred for the United States, which both fosters future terrorism and undermines the international support we will need to fight terrorism effectively for many years to come."
Since then we have suffered nearly five times as many dead and wounded, and anticipate six times as much in financial expense. The opportunity costs and the diplomatic damage are obvious in Afghanistan, in Israel and Palestine, and in the international struggle against Islamic extremism. The Democratic voters of Connecticut have delivered a verdict on the debacle made in Washington -- and they have no reason to heed the scolding of those who have been wrong all along.