It’s not surprising that Joe “War is Always the Answer” Lieberman wants to start another war. The absurdity and immorality of his views speak for themselves, so I’m not going into them. Fightin’ Joe’s op-ed does, however, raise some broader points about media narratives that are worth discussing.
First, I think op-eds like this vindicate Lamont supporters. The rise of Lamont was too often described -- and more importantly conceptualized -- as a wild Lefty revolt against a sensible centrist. Blinded by anti-Bush anti-Iraq rage, Lamont Lefties were purging Lieberman over one issue even though he’s solid on others. Remember too that he fought for civil rights in the 1960s. Well, that’s an easy narrative for journalists facing a deadline to report, but the truth is that a lot of us had serious substantive disagreements with Lieberman’s judgment and policy preferences. As this op-ed indicates, the Lamont/Lieberman battle was a substantive political debate over substantive (indeed, world-historical) issues.
It’s true that Lieberman agrees with Dems more times than he disagrees. Did I mention he fought for civil rights in the 1960s? But it’s important not to undervalue intensity of preferences. Yes, I care about the education issues that Fightin’ Joe seems to be solid on. But I care more about not starting wars. Wars are different -- they are orders of magnitude more important than almost anything else. And if one candidate is solid on every other issue but wants to solve all foreign policy problems with wars and death, well, that’s enough for me to oppose him. What’s more -- it’s not blind irrational rage for me to think this way. It’s a substantive political disagreement based on policy and my moral judgment.
Second, I think Fightin’ Joe’s op-ed also illustrates how bankrupt the conception of “centrism” is -- in particular, the Broder/Nyhan view that the correct position between any two points is the straight middle. It’s on the basis of this “centrism is good” view that Lieberman gets invited to the Sunday talk shows every single week advocating for more wars. Apparently no substantive position that Lieberman takes can get him kicked out of the respectable Sunday discussion crowd.
So really, there are two problems. The first is the “hail centrism” view that gets Lieberman on the shows each week (and gets him quoted incessantly in newspapers). The second is that Lieberman isn’t really a centrist. He’s gone so far on Iran and Iraq that he’s well to right of most Republicans these days.
Let’s call a spade a spade here -- the “bomb Iran” positions that Lieberman and Kristol have adopted are radical, immoral positions. We should really resist the urge to label them as crazy. I mean, they are, but that obscures how dangerous these positions really are. Better for the public to understand that these men are dangerous, extremist radicals oblivious to the consequences of their political positions. It’s hard for the public to do so though when people like Lieberman continue to be toasted by elite media outlets and invited on TV to share their views about how we need to destroy more things and kill more people to promote our values.