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Democrats head for déjà vu all over again

By Michael M. Bates
web posted August 14, 2006

Joe Lieberman is a Democrat through and through. Three terms in the Senate have yielded a voting record that in some respects is as liberal as that of Teddy Kennedy. Mr. Lieberman was his party's vice presidential nominee in 2000. Several party luminaries, including former President Clinton, have campaigned for him. Yet all that may not be good enough.

Joe LiebermanThis is written before last Tuesday's Connecticut primary. If the polls are right, Joe Lieberman will not win renomination. He may, of course, still squeak through. Opinion surveys don't vote; people do.

But even if he does manage to dodge defeat, the antiwar element will claim victory for coming so close to tossing Mr. Lieberman over.

Antiwar activists are flexing their muscles. They're aiming to prove that no candidates, no matter how liberal they may be on every other article of the Democratic faith, are acceptable unless they're shrilly opposed to the war in Iraq.

Were it not for the defeatists, Senator Lieberman would have glided to victory. Core Democratic constituencies have been well served by him over the years.

Unions love him with the same enthusiasm as taxpayer groups dislike him for his big spender ways. In 2003 and 2004, he voted with the ACLU more than 80 percent of the time. The National Right to Life Committee gave him a big, fat zero for the same period.

Civil rights groups award Mr. Lieberman high marks. Last year, according to the National Journal, Joe voted more liberal on economic, defense and foreign policy issues than 66 percent his colleagues.

It's true that when Clinton's extracurricular activities surfaced, Senator Lieberman loudly criticized him. It's also true that when push came to shove on impeachment, he voted against removing the Little Rock Lothario from office.

All those years of laboring in the liberal fields have been set aside because the senator doesn't oppose the war. The tinfoil hat set, some of whom subscribe to the wildest of conspiracy theories (What was President Bush's brother Marvin's real involvement in 9/11?), has developed its own, very simple acid test. Essentially, it's do you absolutely despise U.S. involvement in Iraq and want all forces withdrawn immediately?

Hostility to the war is all that's necessary. No suggested alternative or recommended option is required. Say that we can't win. Declare the need to cut and run while simultaneously avowing that to do so isn't cutting and running.

Many Americans are dissatisfied with the war in Iraq. Having members of Congress highlight each military death there may have contributed to that. So have disgraceful statements like the one from Illinois' Senator Durbin comparing our troops to Nazis.

That discontent with Iraq needs to be balanced with what choices there are. Would we prefer the war be waged on our shores rather than overseas? Would it be better that innocent civilians, rather than trained soldiers, are the targets of the terrorists? Sometimes, it appears as though the antiwar crowd thinks the military shouldn't be used for anything other than social work, preferably within the continental U.S. since they keep insisting all our troops should be brought home.

Will bugging out of Iraq be interpreted as a sign of appeasement with the war on terror? It will certainly be viewed as a signal that the U.S. will not "pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty," as John Kennedy once asserted.

Debates about whether we should have committed forces to Iraq will go on. The bottom line, though, is that we are there. A precipitous withdrawal will be rightly seen as a victory for terrorism and a setback for civilization.

What's happening now is reminiscent of how the peace at any price elements took control of the Democratic party in the early 70s. With public support for Vietnam waning, they trotted out an unabashedly antiwar candidate for president. Richard Nixon - yes, that Richard Nixon - won 49 states against him.

Those who won't learn from the past are condemned to repeat it, said the philosopher. The shabby treatment of a staunch liberal like Joe Lieberman by the defeatists suggests a replay of 1972 might be in the making.

Mike Bates is the author of Right Angles and Other Obstinate Truths. This column by Michael M. Bates appeared in the August 10, 2006 Oak Lawn Reporter.


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