Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The Lieberman Defeat: Wes Clark’s Party or George McGovern’s?

by Bernie Quigley - for WesPAC, 8/90/06

What a difference a day makes. I think the unfortunate Joe Lieberman of Connecticut fell victim to fate when he lost his primary race yesterday. Had his primary been held tomorrow, or next week, after everyone had seen Oliver Stone’s new movie about two courageous Port Authority officers trapped under the rubble of the World Trade Center, things might have been different.

The events of 9/11 continue to define us. Our century began with 9/11. Our millennium will be remembered first by the events of 9/11. New York City will be remembered by 9/11.

For myself, it is an item tucked away in the permanent places of my soul and in the corners of my desk where I keep the sacred things; painted stones and paper birds my kids give over the years; pictures of our first sheep and critters. There is a picture of a Buddhist monk in orange robes, like those I’d encountered in military service in Thailand 40 years ago. I still pleasantly dream about them today for some reason. There is a newspaper clipping of the New England Patriot’s second quarterback, Doug Flutie, drop-kicking his way to retirement, and there is a tattered news photo of a New York City firefighter calmly, resolutely, walking up the stairwell of the World Trade Center, while office workers pour down the same stairwell in smoke and horror. A woman stops and turns to watch him and seems frozen, her eyes wide with disbelief.

It is those two elements which remain: That a man could walk so calmly to his duty and to his death. And that the rest of us would encounter such a person, and would rise ourselves from the rubble a different people because he had done so.

One writer said that New York joined the country on 9/11. As a one time New Yorker, I would say so. A shadow lifted from New York on 9/11; a shadow as long as the buildings themselves. And the rest of the country joined New York as well. Jim Webb, Virginia’s Democratic candidate for Senate, said all his anger fell from him on 9/11.

I’m glad that Joe Lieberman didn’t win. I never liked him as a politician. He was the first or among the first to advise President Bush to respond to 9/11 by going into Baghdad. It is not wrong or unhealthy to have a gut reaction like Stonewall Jackson’s (”Kill them, sir. Kill them all.”) to an event of such towering evil. It is wrong to implement it as public policy. And I am not sure Joe Lieberman understood the difference. I don’t mind that he cozied up to George Bush. There was good reason to do so on many occasions. But the spiraling cycle of incompetence in policy and performance which has characterized this administration first took its initiative from Joe Lieberman.

But something else is troubling here. As far as I know, Ned Lamont, who beat Lieberman in the primary, might well be a fairly competent person because he made a lot of money as a businessman. But all I hear about him is that he is the “anti-war” candidate. He is today exclusively defined by the press as the “anti-war” candidate. And I don’t know exactly what that is. Truthfully, I think it suggests that the Democrats are retreating to the safety of their shadow again, and see the Lamont victory as the ascending front. Will Senator Clinton now flip and be the “anti-war” candidate? Will Kerry?

If public discussion is reduced to such an absurd simplification as “pro war” or “anti war” it will be a disaster for the Democrats. The shadow only makes the strong one stronger. The Democratic Party will be the “anti war” party again, as it became the “anti war” party in 1972 when it lost in a landslide. We in Massachusetts became the only state to vote for the “anti-war” candidate, George McGovern. Massachusetts did so with feelings of pride, righteous indignation, smugness and self-assurance. As one born in that state and reared thereabouts, I felt it was a classic retreat from the collective responsibility of governance and citizenship. And I am feeling that same smugness, which has poisoned both politics and culture in the northeast from then to now, blossoming again up here like a corpse flower.

I do not think it will go that way. Vietnam and the war on Iraq are intrinsically different. The times were different. The wars were different. Americans are different today than we were then and 9/11 contributes vastly to that difference. And if the Democrats do retreat under the mantle of anti-war, this time a third party could well rise in the middle and remove their traditional cloak of responsibility from them once and for all. Political pundit Dick Morris claims that American history has never been so ripe for a third-party challenge as it is today.

It was a relief to read General Clark’s remarks a few weeks ago in the New Jersey Jewish Reporter quoting Colin Powell, who advised the President, “If you break it, you own it.” We broke it and it is still broke. And it is still our responsibility to fix it. That incompetence continues to break it does not change the responsibility of fixing it.

The singular voice which has remained steady in this from the beginning is General Clark’s. When he signed the book in Concord to enter the primary here in New Hampshire, he held a little press conference afterwards in which he presented a plan for the warring regions of the Middle East. The desert sands have shifted considerably since then and the plan is different. But there is always a new plan. That is the hallmark of leadership, management, excellence and competence in policy making. That is the hallmark of adulthood.

Regarding Iraq today, Clark told the New Jersey periodical that it would be virtually impossible to beat a hasty retreat. He said the United States forces should not leave without making sure that there would be at least some kind of stability in the region.

I no longer hear that from any other Democrat who gets her or his name in the daily press. No other Democrat today with a public persona speaks like that. No Democrat in the public eye speaks of responsibilities to the region. None has a plan to put back the broken pieces.

The Lieberman defeat brings the Democrats to a fork in the road. Lieberman was rightfully defeated because his stances were misguided and incompetent, and also as Noam Scheiber, a senior editor of The New Republic, says today in The New York Times, because of the perception that he’s a less than reliable partisan.

But if a Lieberman defeat means the return to McGovernism, the Democrats and the country will face disaster in 2008.

General Clark says the White House hadn't put in place the diplomatic and political strategies necessary to win the war in Iraq and establish peace in the Middle East and he provides new strategies to anyone who will listen.

"It has been over three years of fumbles and mistakes by the White House," he says.

Today, the Democrats could yield to defeatism and relish in its narcotic and malodorous sweetness as it did in 1972. Increasingly, its only other option is Wesley Clark.

But I do not see a place for him in a party of McGovern Democrats.

3 comments:

Alex said...

Mr. Quigley, I appreciate your analysis of what's going on in contemporary U.S. politics. The whole field of debate is looking pretty muddy, and I can't tell who's who for all the dirty jerseys on both teams.

I'm from Minnesota, and things up here are a little different. Democrats up here don't recognize ourselves in the national news. I'd say we're very family oriented, peace loving but hard working and tough. I paid for my first car by cutting and selling firewood. I personally have a genuine fondness for many aspects of the republican worldview, certainly more than I do for that of the Greens or other extremists that crop up every now and then.

Anyway, I wrote an entry on my own site which I think was encouraged by reading this entry of yours. Not a response, but certainly in kindred spirit to that of your own. Please keep on writing, I'm certainly glad for your perspective.

Warm regards to you and yours,
--
Alex Saint Croix
Minneapolis

Alex said...

Mr. Quigley, I appreciate your analysis of what's going on in contemporary U.S. politics. The whole field of debate is looking pretty muddy, and I can't tell who's who for all the dirty jerseys on both teams.

I'm from Minnesota, and things up here are a little different. Democrats up here don't recognize ourselves in the national news. I'd say we're very family oriented, peace loving but hard working and tough. I paid for my first car by cutting and selling firewood. I personally have a genuine fondness for many aspects of the republican worldview, certainly more than I do for that of the Greens or other extremists that crop up every now and then.

Anyway, I wrote an entry on my own site which I think was encouraged by reading this entry of yours. Not a response, but certainly in kindred spirit to that of your own. Please keep on writing, I'm certainly glad for your perspective.

http://blog.lib.umn.edu/saintx/eremite/2006/09/genuinely_progressive_politics.html

Warm regards to you and yours,
--
Alex Saint Croix
Minneapolis

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