The wingnuts used Connecticut as a rationale for continuing to wave the bloody shirt of Islamist terrorism as a partisan bludgeon. Vice President Dick Cheney, the nation's wingnut in chief, actually said Lieberman's defeat would give aid and comfort to our terrorist "adversaries and al-Qaeda types." On the other side, Eli Pariser, the executive director of MoveOn.org and therefore, perhaps, the nation's blognut in chief, proposed the "death of triangulation"that is, the end of Clintonian moderationin a Washington Post Op-Ed piece and announced a return to ... well, the party's stupid excesses of the '70s and '80s.
Much was made of Cheney's venting, and it is a bit too easy, after six years of this bilge, to dwell on the Vice President's aura and miss the essential felony of the Bush White Housethat it has tried to run a war without bipartisan support. Indeed, it has often attempted to use the war for partisan gain. To be sure, there is some grist to the Republican portrayal of Democrats as a bunch of wimpy peaceniks. All too often in the post-Vietnam pastthe first Gulf War, for examplethe default position of the Democratic Party has been to assume that any prospective use of U.S. military power would be immoral. But Bush's initial post-9/11 response was not one of those times. The invasion of Afghanistan and an aggressive effort to destroy al-Qaeda were supported by just about every Democratic politician. Many leading Democrats even gave Bush the authority to invade Iraq, although most did so, I suspect, for reasons of political expediency. One of the most convincing arguments offered by the bloggers is that the Democratic establishment should have been far more skeptical than it was about a pre-emptive, nearly unilateral assault on an Islamic country.
In 2004 Bush and Karl Rove managed to flummox the Democrats by conflating the war in Iraq with the war against al-Qaeda and insisting that any Democratic reservations about Iraq were a sign of weakness. This was infuriating. It was Bush's disastrous decision to go to warand worse, to go to war with insufficient resourcesthat transformed Iraq into a terrorist Valhalla. It is Bush's feckless prosecution of the war that has created the current morass, in which a U.S. military withdrawal could lead to a regional conflagration. Rove may avert another electoral embarrassment this November with the same old demagoguery, but his strategy has betrayed the nation's best interests. It has destroyed any chance of a unified U.S. response to a crisis overseas. Even the Wall Street Journal's quasi-wingnut editorial page cautioned, in the midst of a typical anti-Democratic harrumph, "[No] President can maintain a war for long without any support from the opposition party; sooner or later his own party will begin to crack as well."
There isn't much point in detailing the chest thumping of the various blognut extremists. Their reach is minuscule, largely limited to the left's upper crust, and their angry spew is beginning to seem sooo six months ago. But Pariser's anti-triangulation argument deserves attention because it represents the latest expression of a perennial self-destructive urge within the Democratic Party. "Originally employed as a survival mechanism by a Democratic President in the wake of 1994's Republican revolution," he writes, triangulation "no longer makes sense in an era when any attempt at bipartisanship" is seen as Democratic weakness "and exploited accordingly." He has a point. The Bush Administration has made a mockery of bipartisanship.
But Pariser and the MoveOniks can't seem to get Bill Clinton's success out of their craw. They persist in seeing "triangulation"which was the consultant Dick Morris' odious term for Third Way liberalismas a mere political strategy rather than a governing philosophy. It was a bit of each, of course. But the philosophy was both successful and profound. It proposed the achievement of liberal ends through market-oriented conservative means. Welfare reform, which combined a work requirement with significant financial incentives for the working poor, was the best example of how the philosophy might work. Unfortunately, Monica Lewinsky's thong show prevented further successesand Al Gore and John Kerry foolishly sidled away from the Third Way, toward the party's electorally lethal special-interest groups.
Pariser calls for an era of "bolder, principle-driven politics." But we've suffered all the boldness we can handle these past six years. In the end, the real alternative to Bush's Republican extremism isn't Democratic extremism. It is bipartisan moderationwhich has the additional advantage of being the highest form of patriotism and the only route to victory in a time of war.