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Zellification

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"Zellification"

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I speculated maybe a week or two ago that soon enough we were regularly going to start hearing liberal hawk types excoriating Joe Lieberman as the new Zell Miller for saying exactly the kind of things they themselves said during the Years of Hubris. Take, for example, this Jon Chait post:

The Zell Miller-ization of Joe Lieberman Continues
See Larry Kudlow rave.

Kudlow and Lieberman are arguing that Bush is the true heir to the Truman/Kennedy liberal tradition in American foreign policy. As you know, I think this is wrong. But before Lieberman was giving speeches about this, it was the thesis of Lawrence Kaplan’s article “Regime Change: Bush, closet liberal” in the March 3, 2003 issue of The New Republic. Indeed, Chait himself defined Bush/McCain/Lieberman-style warmongering as the correct interpretation of the Wilson/Truman legacy while dismissing Lieberman’s intra-party critics as “old cranks”:

And the most prominent feature of Democratic foreign policy since September 11 is that there isn’t much of one. Yes, a couple Democrats–mostly old cranks like Robert Byrd and Hollings–have worried about an open-ended conflict; but others–such as Lieberman–have staked out terrain to Bush’s right. The general mood among Democrats in Washington is to lay low on foreign affairs and to confront Bush in the domestic arena. Not only does this mean that McCain’s hawkishness would pose little barrier to his nomination; it also presents him with an opportunity to determine what kind of Democratic foreign policy will emerge in the wake of the war on terror. And here McCain has a chance to shape the future of American politics–which, like all things histori cal, can be highly contingent. After all, if Franklin Roosevelt hadn’t replaced Henry Wallace with Harry Truman as his vice president, the Democratic Party would not have built its policy of containment in the two decades after World War II. In the post-post Vietnam era now beginning, McCain could redefine the Democratic Party once again as the champion of Wilsonian interventionism.

Now needless to say, I think Lieberman’s interpretation of all of this is wrong and a substantial portion of Heads in the Sand is dedicated to laying out why it’s wrong and how people came to have this wrongheaded interpretation. But in Lieberman’s defense, he’s not really “Zellifying” at all — the things he’s saying today were conventional wisdom among center-left elites five years ago and as recently as three years ago Peter Beinart could be found getting a respectful hearing for the idea that MoveOn members should be analogized to Communist Fifth Columnists and purged from progressive politics. It’s just that most people who used to hold those views have abandoned them, often sotto voce, leaving Lieberman as an unexpected outlier.

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