The Best Democrat

One of the perils of printed punditry is the possibility that words written long ago will serve as definitive evidence of just how little one really knows.   One should always remember the caution of Neils Bohr that, “Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.”  On the other hand, some predictions are so easy to make that they provide no usefulinformation.  One can predict confidently now, that on the eve of the upcoming presidential elections, the official position of both the campaigns is that both their respective candidates will undoubtedly win the election.  There are other assertions, like the one to be made here, that are safe since they involve a “what if” assessment that can never be tested. Credibility is not at stake.

There are really only two strong passions motivating people in this election and one of them is not the economy.  Despite some important economic issues, the large deficit, good but not great employment numbers, polls show that most people are sufficiently comfortable with their personal economic situations that the election of an incumbent would not be threatened.

The two motivating passions are the War in Iraq, including its aftermath, and the deep-seated irrational hatred of Bush engendered by the bitter results of the 2000 election that some on the Left still (despite independent counts by news organization) have not accepted. Indeed, there is a line of argument that the latter issue is really the only motivating passion and Iraq just provides a convenient political rallying point.  Let us not presume the latter, because that would require people to be so animated by partisan animus that they would be willing to exploit a war to sate their anger.

The thesis here is the Joseph Lieberman would have been a much more formidable candidate against George Bush than John Kerry, despite the current narrowness of the head-on-head Bush-Kerry polls.  Let it be conceded, that given Lieberman’s  pro Iraq War stand, and his unwillingness to abandon his principled position when Governor Howard Dean excited Democratic partisans with an anti-war stance (unlike the unceremonious flight from pre-war positions of John Kerry and John Edwards), he would never garner the Democratic presidential nomination..

Lieberman would have qualified for the “anyone but Bush crowd.”  Without having to explicitly mention the 2000 elections, as Gore’s vice-presidential running mate, Lieberman could have unobtrusively benefited from the support of those who continue to wallow in the pit of election 2000 victim hood.  For those who hate Bush, Lieberman would have been a more than adequate candidate.

On the more important issue of Iraq, Lieberman could convincingly run to the right of George Bush and assuage the doubts of those whose primary concern is security.  When Bush decided on a plan of attack for Iraq, they could have gone in heavy or light, slow or rapid.  The advantages of going in light are:

  • Light forces are more precise, reducing the likelihood of civilian casualties and the creation of large numbers of refugees (500,000 was the erroneous prediction of the United Nations).
  • Light forces are faster, reducing the likelihood that Saddam Huessein’s forces could have engaged in a systematic destruction of critical Iraqi infrastructure.
  • A large force would have required permission to deploy from Turkey. This would have involved Turkish troops in northern Iraq, exacerbating the tensions with the Iraqi Kurds, our strongest natural allies in Iraq.

Going in heavy would have had the key advantage of more systematically destroying Saddam’s forces.  It might have also meant an earlier destruction of insurgencies in places like Fallujah, that have been a constant problem since the end of the war.  Despite a higher level of destruction and civilian casualties on the front end, going in heavy might have decreased problems in the post-war era.  The strategic decision was a difficult one and reasonable people can disagree.  In hindsight, the advantages of going in light are forgotten, as we pay the costs for this course.  The costs in terms of casualties, refugees, and destroyed infrastructure of going in heavy are not tallied.

Lieberman could now make the claim, (especially in hindsight) that he would have gone in heavier and reduced post-war problems.  Lieberman could have reasonably argued that he would not have been so accommodating to insurgent forces in Fallujah, Sadr City or Najaf. Lieberman would make it easy for those whom the fight against terrorism is a priority to vote against Bush, without that apprehension that Democrats tend to be weak on defense matters.  Lieberman would not be so easily categorized as a free taxing Liberal and libertine on social issues, unconcerned about traditional social values.

The counter argument to the thesis that Lieberman would have been a better nominee is that Lieberman and Bush’s Iraq positions are sufficiently similar that people would not be inclined to switch presidents.  As Truman once said, if given a choice between a Democrat running like a Republican, and a Republican, the people would choose the Republican every time.

However, we are at a rather unique war time position. There remains a general unease about how the reconstruction of Iraq is perceived as going.  Lieberman could have provided a credible alternative to Bush without Kerry’s baggage of duplicity.  Unfortunately for the Democrats, they are plainly too angry to nominate a social moderate with a cogent position on Iraq, perhaps, in some respects, to the right of Bush.  If Lieberman were the Democratic nominee, he would be leading Bush now by double digits and might very well have had sufficient coat tails to regain a significant majority in the Senate.  The politics of hate may or may not cost Democrats the presidential election, but it will probably cost them the opportunity to stop and reverse the Republican electoral trends of recent years.

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