It’s not the biggest deal in the world, per se, but continuing liberal obsession with Max Cleland strikes me as a bit odd. Josh Marshall hails a witty Cleland line at a campaign event for John Tester and remarks: “If the Dems take Congress, that image will bookend the era of Bush mendacity for me, along with the attack ad the GOP ran against the triple-amputee Cleland in the 2002 election, questioning his courage during the run-up to the Iraq War.”
The infamous anti-Cleland ad was legitimately scummy, presenting a seriously distorted and underhanded view of the issues at hand. That said, what does Cleland’s triple-amputee status have to do with it? Saxby Chambliss wasn’t attacking Cleland’s personal bravery, he was attacking Cleland’s policies. Democrats over and over again seem to think that biographical qualities either are or out to somehow immunize nominees from political attacks based on national security issues and they keep getting burned. They need to get over it — the world doesn’t work that way and the world shouldn’t work that way. This is on a par with whining that Republicans are politicizing national security. Well, guess what, national security is a political issue. The Democratic Party is full of politicians. They need to learn to do politics — the whining just looks weak and pathetic.
Meanwhile, there’s a real lesson to be learned from the Cleland campaign. If you read Tom Ricks’ Fiasco, Cleland more-or-less admits that he thought authorizing the use of military force against Iraq was a bad idea, but he voted to do it anyway because he thought it would inoculate him against GOP attacks. Cleland, sure, was not alone in this. But it didn’t work. He couldn’t take national security off the table, and he lost anyway. Had he acted more courageously and stood up for his beliefs, he almost certainly would have lost the election anyway. But had Democrats as a whole voted against the war, they’d be far better-positioned to take advantage of the sorry state of Iraq today than they actually are. In a pinch, it actually helps in politics to be right — undue cynicism has fairly minimal benefits. That’s the real lesson here.