Marty Peretz's assistant is the latest to be elected spokesperson for the Moderate Americans

How do people with extremist, unpopular views convince themselves that they speak for the average American?


Glenn Greenwald
November 16, 2008 4:39PM (UTC)

(updated below)

As we've seen many times and in many contexts, one of the most empty-headed, trite and deceitful pundit techniques is to take one's own viewpoint and, without an iota of polling data or other empirical support, attribute it to the "average/ordinary/moderate American" and then, with deep concern, warn political leaders that they will harm themselves politically -- will alienate the fair-minded moderate voters -- if they don't follow that view.  Even for the most ideologically extreme pundits who rely on this tactic, it always just so happens that their own views -- magically -- are the same as the ones that just happen to be held by the majority of Good Centrist Voters as well.

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There are few more mindless practitioners of this technique than Marty Peretz's assistant, Jamie Kirchick.  In a New Republic article yesterday defending Joe Lieberman and urging that he keep his Homeland Security Chairmanship (TNR, of course, announced in 2004 that its editorial mission would be to ensure that the Democratic Party was led by Joe Lieberman's "principles"), Kirchick identified some of those who are advocating for Lieberman's removal -- Daily Kos, Joe Klein, Josh Marshall, Jane Hamsher -- and then declared:

If Democrats follow the cues of this crowd, then the party will lose credibility among the moderate majority of the American electorate.

Indeed.  It is Jamie Kirchick -- who spent the whole year embodying the most ludicrous extremes of neoconservatism, venerating John McCain and demonizing Barack Obama as a weak radical -- who, along with Kirchick's ideological comrade, Joe Lieberman, is the symbol for the "moderate majority of the American electorate."  Therefore, any opposition to the Kirchicks and Liebermans will doom the Democratic Party.

Apparently, Americans -- the normal, moderate, mainstream kind -- will be absolutely furious if the Homeland Security Committee isn't chaired by Joe Lieberman.  They believe that in exactly the same way that Democrats would pay a huge price in the 2006 midterm elections if Joe Lieberman was defeated in the primary -- 2006's version of conventional wisdom at TNR and (excuse the redundancy) the Beltway generally -- because the same mythic average moderate American voters would view Lieberman's defeat as evidence that the Democratic Party was as an intolerant, Far Left anti-war party and would punish them in the 2006 midterm elections for their blasphemy against Lieberman.  Before that, the same mentality led to the insistence that the Democrats' opposition to the Iraq War -- of all things -- would doom their chances among moderate voters.

There is and always has been a Beltway cottage industry of trite, platitude-spouting establishment-defenders whose only "argument" consists of issuing grave warnings that Democrats will suffer if they don't ignore and scorn "the Left" (defined as any Democrat dissimilar to Joe Lieberman).  They invariably purport to speak on behalf of unseen majorities and they are invariably painfully wrong, though with no effect on future behavior.  As but one example, writing last March in The Politico, Kirchick -- then speaking on behalf of "most general election voters" -- issued this dire warning about Obama's chances in the general election:

[Obama] wants us to think that in all of his heart-to-heart conversations with [Jeremiah Wright], he never saw the angry, conspiratorial and America-hating minister now topping the charts on YouTube. Many of Obama’s supporters – given the messianic milieu of his campaign – are credulous enough to believe these evasions. But most general election voters will not

The media focused non-stop for weeks on Wright, and the week before the election, a GOP group spent millions of dollars to run anti-Obama ads featuring Jeremiah Wright in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida.  Obama won all three states.

Now, these same self-anointed spokespeople for the Moderate Voter are announcing that Democrats strip Joe Lieberman of his Chairmanship at their own peril -- the same Lieberman who:

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So, to recap:  Moderate voters are going to rise up in rebellious outrage if the Democrats don't award a powerful Chairmanship to a Senator who espouses positions which most Americans hate; who spent the last year vigorously campaigning for the political party that, for the second straight election, got crushed; and who is widely disliked even in his own state. 

Additionally, it would be a grave mistake for Democrats to do anything other than scorn and reject the huge numbers of highly engaged citizens online who pour energy and money into the Party and who espouse views that have increasingly become the mainstream.  And, most of all, the salvation for the Democratic Party depends upon their embracing and listening to the likes of Joe Lieberman, Marty Peretz's assistant and The New Republic, because those parties have such a sterling record of prescience and speaking for the core desires of Average Moderate Voter (speaking of which, here's TNR's Jonathan Chait yesterday, similarly warning that Obama's presidency will die if he listens to "the identity politics [of the] left," takes diversity into account when making high-level appointments, and fails to pick Larry Summers as Treasury Secretary).

The fact that someone holds fringe, widely discredited views -- with a history of supporting a now-collapsed political party -- doesn't prove that they are wrong.  But it does mean that they are not Spokespeople for "the moderate majority of the American electorate."

 

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UPDATE:  I actually agree completely with Jim Henley's point here that very few people outside of very highly engaged political observers actually care if Joe Lieberman is or isn't the Chairman of the Homeland Security Committee.  I tried to make that point, probably more subtly than I should have, by deriding the belief that "Americans -- the normal, moderate, mainstream kind -- will be absolutely furious if the Homeland Security Committee isn't chaired by Joe Lieberman."

That said, I do think there are potentially significant implications from the Democrats rewarding Lieberman:  the general statement about what kind of party they are, what views are welcomed in it, the total lack of party discipline, the greater allegiance to each other than their supporters, etc.   But the notion that the average moderate American is going to be angered if Democrats deny Lieberman this Chairmanship -- or care one way or the other -- is clearly silly.


Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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