Saturday, May 24, 2008

Joe Lieberman's alternative history and Trot foreign policy inclination

Leon Trotsky and Holy Joe Lieberman: "comrades" at last?

Joe Liberman becomes an increasingly sad case almost by the day, it seems. He's practically become McCain's butler to judge by the number of times he appears with him in public. Does McCain even go outside without Lieberman there any more?

Lieberman's rightwing radicalism - let's call it what it is - was on full display this past Wednesday in his op-ed Democrats and Our Enemies Wall Street Journal 05/21/08. The Democratic Senate establishment was sympathetic to Lieberman in his 2006 Senate re-election campaign, even after he lost the Democratic nomination. Harry Reid is still running around defending the guy.

But here's a good example of how a timely intra-party challenge can be good for the Party rather than simply "divisive". Lieberman is building up to his Zell Miller act at this year's Republican National Convention, and his op-ed gives a good idea of what we can expect. McCain is using Lieberman to boost his "bipartisan" credentials to posture as a phony "moderate" for the general election. I don't expect it, but I also wouldn't be terribly surprised if he picks Lieberman as his running mate.

Since Lieberman, though, was not elected as a Democrat in 2006,...

... that gives the Party a way to undercut his shtick about upholding the true Democratic tradition against that radical America-hating black guy Obama and the anti-American Democratic Party. Of course, the Dems need to actively make the effort to start creating that distance now before Lieberman puts on his clown show at the Republican Convention. Harry Reid, in other words, needs to shut the hell up making excuses for Lieberman and start discrediting him. The Dems all need to emphasize that even though Holy Joe voted with the Dems in organizing the Senate, he is the Senate representative of a one-man party, the Independent Democratic Party. Actually, the FOXist grammar using "Democrat" as the adjective would be appropriate here - the Independent Democrat Party - since Lieberman is the only known member of that organization. (Technically, I don't think it's a Party organization at all, but the point is he's not an elected Senator of the Democratic Party.)

Joe Conason rakes Lieberman over the coals for his Journal op-ed in Joe Lieberman, ideological turncoat Salon 05/23/08. I couldn't hope to outdo Conasaon's version of how tendentious Lieberman is being now. But I will comment on a couple of things that particularly struck me.

Lieberman recites the standard "Reagan Democrat" jive-talk about how Truman and Kennedy and LBJ were tough and warlike but today's Democratic Party is just a bunch of wimps. Actually, it's worse than that. What he says is:

This worldview began to come apart in the late 1960s, around the war in Vietnam. In its place, a very different view of the world took root in the Democratic Party. Rather than seeing the Cold War as an ideological contest between the free nations of the West and the repressive regimes of the communist world, this rival political philosophy saw America as the aggressor – a morally bankrupt, imperialist power whose militarism and "inordinate fear of communism" represented the real threat to world peace.

It argued that the Soviets and their allies were our enemies not because they were inspired by a totalitarian ideology fundamentally hostile to our way of life, or because they nursed ambitions of global conquest. Rather, the Soviets were our enemy because we had provoked them, because we threatened them, and because we failed to sit down and accord them the respect they deserved. In other words, the Cold War was mostly America's fault. (my emphasis)
As Conason sensibly asks:

Which Democrats does Lieberman think represented this dubious worldview? Was it George McGovern, decorated veteran of World War II? Was it Jimmy Carter, the former Navy submarine officer who stood against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan?
Lieberman's caricatured version of Democratic foreign policy post-1968 is actually so far off that it would would be a challenge to dig up even a few leftwing pamphlets, leaflets or articles from "the 60s" that actually stated such a case. And half those would be from FBI front groups. Even among the relatively tiny group of followers of actual Marxist-Leninist parties and sects such baldly-stated views would be scarce. Trotskyist groups always saw the Soviet Union as horribly threatening; the neocons' Trotskyist hostility to the USSR is one thing that didn't change much in their journey from Trotskyism to neoconservatism.

The "Old Left" Communist Party was pro-Soviet but saw other countries like China as big problems. Conversely, Maoist groups saw "Soviet social-imperialism" as just as threatening an evil as American imperialism. And, after 1972 and the US-Chinese rapprochment, the Maoist position was that the Soviet Union was more of a threat in the world than the US.

To the extent any of those Marxist views affected Democratic Party thinking at all, it was primarily through those hawkish Democrats who would later be known as neoconservatives and whose outlook was heavily influenced by Troskyism. Sen. Henry "Scoop" Jackson of Washington, aka, "the Senator from Boeing", was a major mentor and sponsor of the neocons. Elliott Abrams and Richard "Prince of Darkness" Perle both served as aides to Jackson. And Lieberman praises the "principled efforts" of "Democratic Cold Warriors like Scoop Jackson [who] fought against the tide" of Democratic foreign policy thought.

In fact, the very words "empire" and "imperialism" were considered a sign of lack of seriousness in foreign policy discussion among most Democrats until very recently. And that changed because the post-Trotskyist neocons started frankly and approvingly describing the United States as an "empire". In what must be in part some weird kind of projection, a lot of the statements from the neocons in the 2000s sound like what in the 1960s would have been overdrawn parodies of militarists. Michael Ledeen's infamous quote about how the US should pick up some crappy little country every 10 years or so and slam it against the wall just to show we mean business comes to mind.

In fact, given Lieberman's kind of sleaze-slinging, the Dems should insist on more aggressive reality-checking by the press on some of these things. For instance, check out this from Sid Blumenthal's 1986 The Rise of the Counter-Establishment: From Conservative Ideology to Political Power:

In the 1976 Democratic primaries, the neoconservatives supported Senator Henry Jackson, a black hole of charisma who could not fill the vacuum left by [Hubert] Humphrey. By now some of them were beginning to become an entrenched element within the Counter-Establishment. Their flagship publications, Commentary and The Public Interest, set the line, critical of Great Society social policy and non-interventionist foreign policy. At think tanks such as the American Enterprise Institute, they occupied chairs newly endowed by corporate benefactors seeking intellectual guardians. Some neoconservatives who, amazingly, still regarded themselves as socialists belonged to the Social Democrats U.S.A., which had intimate ties to key figures within the AFL-CIO leadership. These Social Democrats had battled for decades against the sins of Stalinism [Soviet-line Communism], and they viewed their position as unchanged. As they allied themselves with the right wing, they still quaintly called each other "comrade." Other neoconservatives belonged to the Committee on the Present Danger, trying to persuade the public that the Soviets had achieved military superiority and that the threat was immediate. Every deviation by the Democrats from the neoconservative line was assailed by the entity they founded in the wake of McGovern's intra-party victory, the Coalition for a Democratic Majority [CDM]. The name expressed their desire more than the reality, for they were not the majority and many of them were moving out of the Democratic Party. The CDM was the neoconservative party shadow. (my emphasis)
Since he's so chagrined by such doctrines, maybe Comrade Holy Joe should explain just where he stands in relation to these Troskyist and bastardized social-democratic ideas.

But Holy Joe has another problem in his alternative history. Since he himself was the Vice Presidential candidate of the Democratic Party in 2000, the same Party that Rush Limbaugh and all good Republican white folks were trashing then and now as being hopelessly radical, etc., he has to work in an additional revisionist twist. In Holy Joe's version, Bill Clinton's victory in 1992 represented a return to the Trot-style militarism that Lieberman supports! And the Gore-Lieberman ticket in 2000 was practically the reincarnation of Scoop Jackson and his social-democratic comrades! As opposed to that wimpy foreign policy advocated in 2000 by Dick Cheney and George Bush.

Even in a FOXified world, you would think that this would be too much for any minimally-literate person to swallow. But, at least in Holy Joe's case, you would be wrong.

In Comrade Holy Joe's history, 9/11 changed everything. Cheney and Bush were transmuted into faithful comrades and the Dems responded with "the old voices of partisanship and peace at any price". As Conason observes, "Lieberman's indictment of a party that abandoned the president after 9/11 is just as dishonest as his failure to discuss his own evolution," said evolution from being a peacenik Democrat in his youth to a Comrade Warmonger today.

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