It Came From the Beltway

Joe Lieberman is not a centrist.

Brian Cook

To illustrate how human consciousness cannot be understood solely through observable behavior, cognitive scientists came up with a thought experiment known as the zombie problem.” They defined a zombie as a mindless drone, a mere automaton, but one that behaves in ways completely indistinguishable from other sentient human beings. As philosopher Daniel Dennett put the problem rather chillingly, Since [external behavior] is all we get to see of our friends and neighbors, some of your best friends may be zombies.”

'Since [external behavior] is all we get to see of our friends and neighbors, some of your best friends may be zombies.'

What makes this experiment relevant today, of course, is that it prevents us from saying definitively that Joe Lieberman is a zombie, despite all the external evidence. But more careful judgments can be rendered on Somnambulant Joe and his Aug. 8 primary loss to netroots” favorite Ned Lamont, although you wouldn’t know it from the hysterical reaction of mainstream pundits. 

The standard narrative in the run-up to the election – best exemplified by David Brooks in the New York Times equating the primary battle to a liberal inquisition” – was that the centrist” Joe Lieberman was in danger of being purged by the far left” Lamont. At stake in the primary, the Democratic Leadership Council’s Marshall Wittman urged, was nothing less than the soul of the Democratic Party.”

Our punditocracy’s tethers to reality must be awfully thin if they can, with straight faces, label Lamont, a 52-year-old multimillionaire cable TV mogul who lives in one of the wealthiest towns in the nation, far left.” It’s true, the man’s had some nice things to say about universal health care, but a national ABC poll found that two-thirds of respondents support that. It’s also true he’s called for an exit plan for U.S. soldiers in Iraq, but darn it if a June USA Today poll didn’t show that a majority of Americans agree with Lamont on that as well. 

However, it would be incorrect to classify Lamont as anti-war” in general. As the indispensable blogger Billmon has pointed out, when it comes to Israel’s policy of trying to combat Hezbollah’s war crimes by committing their own in Lebanon, Lamont claims on his Web site that the United States must unambiguously stand with [Israel] to be sure that it is safe and secure.” And thus the core of the Democratic Party’s soul” – uncritical support for any Israeli action, no matter how self-destructive or immoral – remains unscathed.

Nevertheless, progressives should rejoice in Lamont’s victory, if only because it allows us one more chance to expose, hopefully for the last time, the lie of Joe Lieberman’s centrism.”

To ask just a few salient questions: On what political playing field is it centrist to monitor and publicly attack students and professors on college campuses for daring to speak such anti-American” views as an eye for an eye leaves everyone blind,” and build bridges and relationships, not just bombs and walls” (as the American Council of Trustees, a group co-founded by Joe Lieberman, did after 9/11)? Under whose definition, when a president calls for radical legislation that grants him alone the power to wage pre-emptive war” whenever he sees fit, is it centrist to not only vote for it and thus cede away one’s constitutionally mandated duty, but also sign one’s name as a co-sponsor of the legislation (as Lieberman did in October 2002)? And finally (because we could be here all day), what kind of a centrist responds to the military, political and moral disaster of Abu Ghraib (as Lieberman did in May 2004) by thanking the man largely responsible, Donald Rumsfeld, for his apology,” and then adding, I cannot help but say, however, that those responsible for killing 3,000 Americans on September 11, 2001, never apologized”?

Lieberman may not be a member of the living dead, but it’s only in the world of the Beltway, where the opinions of tens of millions of living Americans simply do not exist, that he could ever be considered a centrist. 

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Brian Cook was an editor at In These Times from 2003 to 2009. He now works on the editorial staff of Playboy magazine.
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