Column: I just can’t get behind Lieberman

By Brian Pierce

I’m a moderate guy, and whether I’m being labeled a liberal or a conservative usually says more about the person labeling me than it does about myself. It is a quality I share with liberal advocates of the Iraq war, such as myself, and with conservatives who don’t feel our country’s greatest threats involve homosexuals, burning flags, or non-English speaking immigrants.

It is also a quality I share with U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, who has been the subject of talk about breaking off from the Democratic party and making a presidential run as an Independent.

Mr. Lieberman, who called for regime change in Iraq in 1998, appears to be my political cohort standing in advocacy of the middle-left.

And yet, I can’t help but hate him. It’s a case of cognitive dissonance. I know I should like him, I just can’t.

So what’s my problem?

Part of it is that Lieberman has said some pretty dumb things. Take, for example, his concerns following the Columbine shooting, when he positioned himself as the nation’s ornery grandpa by declaring, “This (Marilyn Manson) is perhaps the sickest group ever promoted.” The lamest? Sure. The most pretentious without justification to be? You bet. But so sick that one can reasonably blame teenage gun violence on him? Hardly.

More disturbing were his comments last year when he expressed disappointment in Democrats who have focused too much on President Bush’s lead-up to war, and that “in matters of war we undermine Presidential credibility at our nation’s peril.” This is incredibly intellectually dishonest. Anybody can see that Bush bungled making a legitimate case for war, and America’s credibility is in peril largely because of this administration’s mistakes – not because Democrats pointed them out.

These are peripheral issues indicating a more central problem. There is a stubbornness to Lieberman’s rhetoric and philosophy, a resistance to debate indicative of the type of closed mind one is likely to find among extremists but which seems to suit Lieberman just fine.

There are two kinds of moderate liberals. There are those, like myself, who believe mainstream liberalism is inconsistent and try to adhere to a purer liberal philosophy, regardless of whether that means advocating Republican policies or not. Then there are those, like Lieberman, who believe liberal philosophy is inherently flawed and parts need to be thrown out and amalgamated with something more conservative.

Lieberman’s grandstanding about the entertainment industry, his criticism of dissent and his emphasis on national security when talking about Iraq when its only real justification is humanitarianism and democratization all seem to indicate that he embraces the middle purely out of a desire to appear authoritative and reasonable.

I want a liberal politician who is willing to challenge liberal conventional wisdom when appropriate. But Lieberman is not a liberal, he’s just a left-leaning centrist. Being a liberal is about being progressive, a quality Lieberman, for all his merits, distinctly lacks.

In short, he’s like the guy who never gets the girl in romantic comedies: dependable, perhaps, but still not the one I want to settle down with.