Thursday, August 03, 2006

True Colors

Edit: Hey Marshall! Scoreboard...

One of the most fascinating things about the Lieberman/Lamont primary in Connecticut has been watching all the big machers in the country’s political firmament weigh in. From the current and former president--the first a tacit Lieberman supporter, the second a louder and prouder one--to most of the current Democratic Senate caucus, to ostensibly non-partisan "elders" like David Broder and much more partisan voices ranging in vitriol from David Brooks to Michelle Malkin, everybody's got an opinion. And it seems like the closer they are to the Washington status quo, the more they love Holy Joe.

Which brings us to Marshall Wittman, the Talleyrand of fin-de-siecle American politics and probably the loudest, most dogged champion of Lieberman.

Wittman hasn't changed the name of his Bull Moose Blog to "The Daily Lieberman," but otherwise he's on this every day, with the same lame-assed put-downs of challenger Ned Lamont ("Limousine Liberal") and his supporters ("the nutroots") that you might expect of a guy who spent years working for the Christian Coalition. Wittman has landed at every point on the political compass, but in his current incarnation he works for the Democratic Leadership Council and presents himself as an heir of Teddy Roosevelt and Scoop Jackson: progressive on domestic issues, hawkish internationally. There's a problem with this formulation, as I'll explain below, but the point in conjunction with the Lieberman campaign is that Wittman sees Joe as squarely in this tradition. That Lieberman is anything but progressive on a range of domestic issues, from the disgraceful 2005 bankruptcy legislation to his embrace of steps toward censorship and his unwillingness to call corporate malefactors to task when he had the power to do so, as a Senate committee chair in the summer of 2002, doesn't seem to bother the Moose.

But today, he went too far--and showed that he'd learned perhaps too well the lessons taught him by former colleague Ralph Reed and other purveyors of political slime. In his hatred of Markos Moulitsas, the proprietor of Daily Kos, Wittman might have left himself open to a libel suit. He wrote:

Only a few weeks ago, Lamont featured the kingpin keyboarder in a campaign ad (the same one who once made the infamous "screw 'em" comments about the American victims of terrorism).

Who were these "American victims of terrorism"? Mercenaries hired by the U.S. government, paid exponentially more than the rank-and-file soldiers... of whom Moulitsas was once one. The mercs had been rumored to be committing abuses; an Iraqi mob led by the al-Sadr forces publicly executed them. Moulitsas, in an ill-advised blog post, wrote that he had no sympathy for the mercenaries; his sympathies were with the troops.

Still, hired Blackwater killers are a pretty far cry from what comes to mind for most of us when the phrase "American victims of terrorism" is used. It's a smear based on blurring facts together that might make Karl Rove rub his pudgy little hands together in delight.

This isn't a DLC thing. Wittman's colleague Ed Kilgore, who blogs as New Donkey, has written a series of insightful posts on the CT Senate race; see this one and especially this one, in which Kilgore defends Lieberman but concedes that

Much as I stubbornly admire Joe Lieberman, it's clear he is a clumsy politician who lives in the pre-Karl-Rove atmosphere that permitted genuine bipartisanship. The Clinton New Democrat tradition in the party would survive his defeat.

No, it's Wittman. Maybe he shouldn't be blamed; he's achieved his greatest renown in a period when quisling Democrats like Lieberman were the norm, forever reaching out to close the gap between themselves and a Republican majority tacking hard right. Like Wittman himself, Lieberman seems to believe that his integrity and statesmanship transcends partisan politics; as I wrote a week or two back, that's a theoretically appealing notion--but it's simply not possible in the current Rovian context.

What's strange to me is that Wittman hearkens back to that pre-1968 Democratic model--progressive at home, hawkish abroad--and puts himself in the tradition of leading lights from that time, guys like George Meany. But he never takes into account that some of the most salient issues today--the social "values" shit that he and his Christian Coalition colleagues did so much to poisonously insert into our discourse--simply weren't on the table back then. At the same time, he blasts "the nutroots" as the heirs of the liberal activists who derailed the Democratic coalition that had dominated from FDR's day through LBJ's as "McGovernites with modems."

I happen to know a fair amount about those earlier-generation liberal activists; there are some similarities, but there's also a hugely important difference. Back then, the protest often took the form of demands for greater deference to this or that interest group--with the result that "the majority," white middle-class and working-class Americans, eventually turned away from the Democrats as an amalgam of special-interest pleaders. Today, it's the Lieberman wing of the party that wants to keep pandering to the special interests, appealing to abortion-rights groups, environmentalists, African-Americans and so on with a list of what he and they have done for those groups... and the activists who want the party to advance a more coherent progressive vision. Were Wittman the acute observer of politics he claims to be, and not an ultimate Washington insider who will always acclimate himself to whoever's currently buttering his bread, perhaps he'd understand this.

Anyway, the Bull Moose is gone from the AIS blogroll. But check out The Inclusionist, a new domestic policy blog I found populated by former Clinton administration adviser Margy Waller and a bunch of her friends. Truly good stuff.

No comments: