Tuesday, January 25, 2011

No credit for the easy answers

The execrable Joe Lieberman is retiring, thank God. This comes soon after his hard work on the right side of repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell, which is causing some liberals to wonder if he deserves his awful reputation among the left. They argue that Lieberman has actually voted with Democrats much more often than he's voted against them, and that his demeanor and not his substantive positions are the cause of most of the hatred his critics display.

Giving him credit for his votes on climate change, gays in the military and the stimulus is a bit like praising someone for voting against a bill that would legalize beating the elderly with baseball bats for sport: it's great that he got it right, but getting a vote like that right is kind of the basic test that any reasonable adult, let alone a member of such an august body as the Senate, ought to be able to pass. Climate change, gay rights and the stimulus are not "tough" votes. They may be "controversial" issues, but there really isn't any actual controversy to speak of: there are people with facts on one side, and people with bigoted and/or misinformed and/or corrupt opinions on the other.

The fact that our political culture is in the midst of a years-long debate about whether climate change is real (or whether gay people should be allowed to die for their country, or whether government spending in a recession is a good idea) does not in any way alter the reality of climate change (or gay rights or stimulus.) We can debate it all we like, but that doesn't give both sides equal legitimacy. I may dispute that the Bears lost to the Packers last weekend, because I desperately wish it were not true; but that does not make it untrue, and you should not give my opponents any credit for being right on this issue.

Of course it's convenient that I believe the political positions I hold are the objective truth, at least in the three cases cited above. I'm sure a conservative could easily be found who would believe the opposite of what I do, and with equal certainty. But that's irrelevant: I'm right, and that person is wrong. Unless you believe Derrida was right, at some point there must be things that are objectively true, in politics as in anything else. Find me one cogent argument against the reality of anthropogenic climate change, or the rightness of depriving gay people their civil liberties: there is none, and the conservative movement has never even attempted to provide one. The stimulus debate is a bit more uneven, I'll concede, but even USA Today admits that "Eighteen months later, the consensus among economists is that the stimulus worked in staving off a rerun of the 1930s."

One might object that, nevertheless, there was political controversy surrounding many of the votes that Joe Lieberman got right. But what was at risk for Lieberman if he picked the less popular side in any of those votes? He'd probably make more money after he left office, and besides, isn't the whole point of sending representatives to Washington that they're going to make tough decisions that we as a populace wouldn't make? Have our standards sunk so low that we're willing to praise the guy who did the absolute bare minimum that we asked of him?

Actually, the answer to that one is probably yes. But I'll retain my scorn for Lieberman anyway.


Jeff Epton said...

Do not waver, Abraham. Joe Lieberman does indeed deserve his awful reputation on the left. I've written about him, also (check out my post at http://inandoutwithjeff.blogspot.com/2009/10/in-re-joe-lieberman.html), but the short story is that he supported the invasion of Iraq when it was obvious that the rationale was based on lies, he likely counseled Gore to not contest the stolen 2000 election and dragged his heels on healthcare reform. In these things, as a both a senator from the Northeast and the Democratic candidate for Vice-President, he was in an extraordinarily influential position.

Your skepticism about the applause Lieberman gets for his decent votes on climate change, "don't ask, don't tell," and the stimulus bill is well-founded. These were easy votes for Lieberman. Also easy was his walk on the wild side in support of McCain in 2008. He calculated that he would never pay a political price for that decision and, in the process, would cement his status as a courageous, rather than self-serving, independent. In retirement, he will have his conscience to live with, but I suspect that won't be much of a problem for him, either.

Unknown said...

The Republicans (and many politicians in general) remind me of Gaius Balthazar from Battlestar Gallactica when he decides to campaign on the "let's settle this god forsaken planet," even though he knew it was a bad idea.

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