Say It Ain’t So, Joe

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It’s not news that Sen. Joe Lieberman, the onetime Democratic VP candidate, is backing John McCain for President. Nor is it news that Lieberman takes a different view of the Iraq War than most Democrats. But what he said this morning on ABC’s “This Week” is certainly news.

Well, I say that the Democratic Party changed. The Democratic Party today was not the party it was in 2000. It’s not the Bill Clinton-Al Gore party, which was strong internationalists, strong on defense, pro-trade, pro-reform in our domestic government. It’s been effectively taken over by a small group on the left of the party that is protectionist, isolationist and basically will –and very, very hyperpartisan. So it pains me. I’m a Democrat who came to the party in the era of President John F. Kennedy. It’s a strange turn of the road when I find among the candidates running this year that the one, in my opinion, closest to the Kennedy legacy, the John F. Kennedy legacy, is John S. McCain.

This is Lieberman making a Republican general election argument, and it is notable for its scope. He is not just condemning his party’s position on Iraq, or praising McCain, his long-time friend. He is condemning in sweeping language the very core identity of the Democratic Party as weak and extremist. This is a tried and true Republican theme, which traditionally has more to do with scaring independent voters than with actual reasoned debate of the issues. It is not hard to remember another Democratic exile, Georgia Sen. Zell Miller, making a similar argument at the 2004 Republican Convention. Said Miller back then:

What has happened to the party I’ve spent my life working in? I can remember when Democrats believed that it was the duty of America to fight for freedom over tyranny. It was Democratic President Harry Truman who pushed the Red Army out of Iran, who came to the aid of Greece when Communists threatened to overthrow it, who stared down the Soviet blockade of West Berlin by flying in supplies and saving the city. . .

But don’t waste your breath telling that to the leaders of my party today. In their warped way of thinking, America is the problem, not the solution. They don’t believe there is any real danger in the world except that which America brings upon itself through our clumsy and misguided foreign policy.

The thematic coding is almost identical, though Miller huffed-and-puffed, while Lieberman spoke evenly, struggling with a cold. The message: The once noble Democratic Party has been taken over by peaceniks and radicals, who are weakening the country and threatening our security. Nearly two years after being rejected by his lifelong party in the Connecticut primary, it appears that Lieberman has only begun his effort to exact revenge. Look for him in September on a Twin Cities stage.

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