Supporting Lieberman for all the wrong reasons

SUPPORTING LIEBERMAN FOR ALL THE WRONG REASONS…. This morning, The New Republic published, “The case for allowing [Joe Lieberman] to keep his committee chairmanship.” It was written by James Kirchick. I tried to keep an open mind.

Indeed, I’ve actually looked around, hoping to find a compelling argument for giving Lieberman exactly what he wants, and so I was anxious to see what Kirchick came up with. Unfortunately, he missed the mark.

Kirchick’s piece makes a few basic arguments, before taking a few cheap shots at liberal bloggers. He insists that Lieberman “has been a reliable Democrat,” despite evidence to the contrary. Kirchick also argues that Lieberman has been “a fine chairman of the Homeland Security Committee,” despite evidence to the contrary.

But the crux of Kirchick’s case is that Lieberman is a “moderate,” and it would be a terrible mistake to “punish” Lieberman for his centrist ideology.

[A] political party that seeks to represent a broad swathe of the country should be able to accommodate someone (even a committee chairman) who holds slightly divergent views from the congressional leadership. For an example of what happens when a political party imposes ideological purity tests, Democrats need only cast their gaze across the aisle. The GOP is currently enmeshed in a civil war, where the conservative wing has all but destroyed the party’s moderate faction. […]

There’s also the strategic case for keeping Lieberman on: Just because the Republican brand has lost some its luster doesn’t mean that the Democratic Party now has the leverage to excommunicate its centrists. For the past 40 years, the Democratic Party has been most successful when it has governed from the center — when it has governed at all. Its 2006 congressional takeover, engineered by incoming Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, wouldn’t have happened if the party didn’t run centrist and conservative Democrats in traditionally red states. Were the Democrats to punish their former vice presidential nominee, it could weaken the position of these legislators by making the party seem too liberal and intolerant of moderates.

Kirchick seems to have no idea why Lieberman is facing scrutiny. It has nothing to do with having “slightly divergent views,” imposing “ideological purity tests,” or “excommunicating” centrists. Indeed, Kirchick appears fundamentally confused about the debate itself.

The Democratic caucuses in both chambers have plenty of “centrists” whose ideologies are far from the party’s base and/or leadership. Nebraska’s Ben Nelson is arguably the Senate’s most conservative Democrat, and he remains a member in good standing. There’s a sizable “Blue Dog” caucus in the House, and none of them has faced any retribution for “divergent views.” If the party was interested in “ideological purity tests,” Lieberman wouldn’t be the only one with a precarious future.

But he is. And why is that? Because he endorsed the Republican presidential nominee, spoke at the Republican national convention, defended down-ticket Republicans, and spent several months engaged in a smear campaign against the Democratic Party and its presidential nominee.

How does Kirchick respond to these concerns? He doesn’t. He wrote a piece for publication about the Lieberman debate without addressing what prompted the debate in the first place.