David Brooks's Big Valentine to Joe Lieberman
Published on Wednesday, July 12, 2006 by the Progressive
David Brooks's Big Valentine to Joe Lieberman
by Ruth Conniff

On Sunday, July 9 David Brooks wrote a column in The New York Times decrying the Democratic opposition to Joe Lieberman in the upcoming Connecticut primary. Brooks blamed the leftwing fringe, especially "netroots" activists on DailyKos and other blogs, which, he says, most Democrats "privately despise" for viciously attacking "the most kindhearted and well-intentioned of men."

Lieberman, Brooks writes, is one of the few "heterodox politicians who distrust ideological purity, who rebel against movement groupthink, who believe in bipartisanship both as a matter of principle and as a practical necessity."

The battle between left (especially the Internet left) and bipartisan geniality in the Lieberman campaign, Brooks writes, "serves as a preview for the national conflict that will dominate American politics for the next two years."

(If you aren't a paying subscriber to Times Select, you can read most of Brooks's column reproduced on Raw Story.)

Naturally, Brooks's piece has generated a lot of heat in the blogosphere. But his disdain for Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, whom he has described as a "kingpin," is not the worst part of his attack on what he calls a "liberal Inquisition" of Lieberman.

First, and most obviously, Brooks neglects to mention that Lieberman brought the wrath of his own party on himself, not only by making out with President Bush (his big wet smooch for the President after a State of the Union address, endlessly replayed on the Daily Show and online, has become a symbol of Lieberman's turncoat politics), but by repeatedly bashing fellow Democrats on Fox News. He has become a favorite guest of rightwing blowhards like Bill O'Reilly, so willing is he to take jabs at Democrats for not being tough enough on terror, or for wanting an exit plan from Iraq.

That public party-bashing began when Lieberman was the first to jump on the Clinton-impeachment bandwagon, wagging a finger at the President for his Monica Lewinsky affair.

But Lieberman's conservatism has far deeper roots. I was a student at Yale when William F. Buckley backed Lieberman's winning campaign against liberal Republican Senator Lowell Weicker. Ironically, it was rank partisanship--and liberal Yale students' ignorance of Connecticut politics--that helped Lieberman unseat his more liberal opponent. The Yale Democrats backed Lieberman because he had a D next to his name, and a lot of students voted on that basis. Little did they know what they were getting. Many left town long before they had to live with the consequences of their vote.

David Brooks to the contrary, the opposition to Lieberman grew out of grassroots disgust, not by the liberal elite, or young, Internet savvy political snobs, but from homegrown resistance by the cops, janitors, and other old-line, pro-union Connecticut Democrats who are fed up with being represented by someone who despises the Democratic base, and is ever eager to sell out his constituents for national TV exposure.

"Liberal interest groups that seek practical goals, like the AFL-CIO and the League of Conservation Voters, back Lieberman," Brooks writes. Brooks implies that means these groups are sensible, and Lieberman's opponents are purist wackos. But that's not how it works. Lieberman also has the support of many ward chairs, mayors, and other elected officials who serve as delegates to the state Democratic convention. People who rely on access to institutional power are loath to turn against an incumbent Senator with major financial support and national name recognition. It is a testament to Connecticut Democrats' discontent with Lieberman that his opponent, political neophyte Ned Lamont, was able to garner enough votes at the state convention to get his name on the primary ballot. Lamont didn't have to resort to a massive grassroots signature-gathering campaign (though he launched that campaign anyway, just in case) because enough of those stable, sensible Democratic powers-that-be backed him.

Interestingly, even David Brooks seems to like Ned Lamont. The guy is very personable, attractive, and a straight-shooter of the kind, like John McCain, who tends to charm even the pundits who start out determined to hate him. While he pulls no punches when he talks about the anti-Lieberman blogosphere, Brooks ends up with nary a harsh word to say about Lamont, except that he's got no foreign policy experience.

The problem with the opposition to Lieberman, he writes, is that it is all about single-issue politics. And that single issue is the war, to which Lamont is simply and plainspokenly opposed.

But, as one letter-write to the Times points out: "How callous of Mr. Brooks to minimize the death, maiming, and blindness of more than 21,000 young Americans . . . and the squandering of more than a third of a trillion dollars of national wealth in a senseless war as somehow just ‘one issue.’ ”(Sean Goldrick, Riverside, Connecticut)

Another letter-writer, Martha Trowbridge of New York, denounces Lieberman as "an apologist for the Bush administrations' abuse of power."

No one is more to blame for the anti-Lieberman campaign than Lieberman himself, who just announced he'll run as an independent if the Democrats finally do abandon him.

As for the harbinger of November's midterms: the war will indeed come back to haunt the Republicans. And if the Democrats can round up more winning candidates like Lamont, their future may look a lot brighter.

Ruth Conniff covers national politics for The Progressive and is a voice of The Progressive on many TV and radio programs.

© 2006 The Progressive