The Plank

More Lieber-mania

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Joe Lieberman is very quickly becoming not just a non-Democrat, but a very partisan Republican. At his AIPAC address yesterday, he said, "There is something profoundly wrong when opposition to the war in Iraq seems to inspire greater passion than opposition to Islamist extremism....Some of this wrong-headed thinking about the world is happening because we're in a political climate where, for many people, when George Bush says 'yes,' their reflex reaction is to say 'no.' That is unacceptable."

The first point has a grain of truth to it. I think there are people on the left for whom opposition to Bush has become the touchstone of their entire foreign policy, and who seem to have trouble understanding that our enemies abroad are evil in a way that Bush is not.

But Lieberman is simply making a classic conservative error. Yes, most American liberals devote more energy to opposing domestic conservatism than to opposing foreign totalitarianism, even though the latter is vastly worse. Lieberman's mistake is in assuming that this is because liberals think Bush is worse than bin Laden. In fact, it's because our society aggrees that Islamist extremism is evil, but it doesn't agree that the Bush administration is very bad, so we spend most of our time debating the point of contention. Likewise, American conservatives spent more of their time complaining about American liberals than complaining about Islamist extremists. This doesn't mean they think Nancy Pelosi is worse than bin Laden. (Except, of course for Dinseh D'Souza, who apparently does think this.)

The second part of Lieberman's remark is even worse. He claims that anti-Bush partisanship is driving opposition to the Iraq war. But opposition to the war transcends partisanship. Not only do most democrats oppose Bush's strategy, so do most independents and even many Republicans. What this suggests is that it's not Democrats who are being driven by partisanship, it's Republicans. If partisanship all melted away tomorrow, Bush and his strategy would be even less popular.

Lieberman, though, seems to live in a world where partisanship is primarily a Democratic phenomenon. This is the mental bridge that is leading him from being a bipartisan scold to becoming a Republican scold.

--Jonathan Chait

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