‘EVERYTHING BUT IRAQ’…. There’s been an interesting discussion this week, initiated by Robert Schlesinger reflecting on the “Republican Purge Movement,” which is driving GOP moderates out of the party. Former Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen, now a Washington Post columnist, argued that Schlesinger has it all wrong — Republicans aren’t “purging” centrists, they’re just “carefully targeting” specific races to “elect a handful of real conservatives” over those who fail to toe the party line.

Jon Chait replied, “What, you may ask, is the difference between a purge and an insurgency designed to elect real believers in your side’s ideology? Obviously, when your own party is doing it, it’s the latter. When the other party does it, it’s a purge.” In this sense, as far as Thiessen is concerned, Republicans didn’t purge Arlen Specter, but Dems did purge Joe Lieberman.

To his credit, Thiessen has stayed engaged, and continues to make his case. Unfortunately, it’s still not persuasive.

As for Specter and Lieberman, there is a critical distinction between the two cases: Lieberman was a loyal, down-the-line Democrat who voted with his party on all the major issues save one: Iraq. For his apostasy in supporting the surge in Iraq, this loyal Democrat was purged. […]

By contrast, Specter was anything but a loyal, down-the-line Republican who voted with his party on all the major issues save one. His apostasies were manifold….

It’s hard to overstate how wrong this is. The notion of Lieberman being with Democrats on “everything but Iraq” became a mocked cliche in progressive circles precisely because Lieberman’s differences with Democrats extended far beyond one conflict.

Even if we overlook all of Lieberman’s more recent positions — that is, positions he took after 2006, when he lost his primary race — the Connecticut senator broke party ranks on a wide variety of issues on a very regular basis.

As Democratic primary voters in Connecticut were reminded four years ago, Lieberman adopted positions well to the right of his party on school vouchers, “tort reform,” the Bush White House’s “faith-based” initiative, gun control, and the “blame Hollywood” effort. Lieberman flirted with conservative changes to Social Security. He was the first Democrat to go after then-President Clinton during the Lewinsky scandal. During the uproar over Terri Schiavo, Lieberman was even sympathetic to Republican efforts.

As Paul Krugman explained three months before Lieberman’s primary defeat, “What happened to Mr. Lieberman? Some news reports may lead you to believe that he is in trouble solely because of his support for the Iraq war. But there’s much more to it than that. Mr. Lieberman has consistently supported Republican talking points. This has made him a lion of the Sunday talk shows, but has put him out of touch with his constituents — and with reality.”

Lieberman “was a loyal, down-the-line Democrat who voted with his party on all the major issues save one: Iraq”? That’s not even close to being accurate.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.