Will Lieberman's Loss Push Dems to the Right?

The reverberations from the Lieberman-Lamont primary are now rattling around the world, as foreign policy elites digest its implications. Next month, it's going to be clear just how much certain Democrats are pinned between their donor base and the new progressive voting mood that beat down Lieberman. While one would think that the Democratic Party will become more progressive on foreign policy in response to the loss, there are counterbalancing forces that suggest that leading Democrats will actually move to a more right-wing posture, while making a few limp symbolic gestures to the progressives. Calling for Rumsfeld's resignation is one such gesture, since Kerry did it in 2004, and it is another version of the "incompetence dodge." The political calculation is that Lieberman didn't lose because he was right-wing; he lost because he was a singularly awful politician. As such, there's no need to move leftward since it's fairly easy to avoid a Lieberman-esque political backlash.

Now, the flip side is that the right-wing neocon leader of the party lost even though he carried the advantage of incumbency and outspent his opponent by an almost 2:1 margin, and it's pretty hard to argue with that. So there's a debate over the meaning of the Lamont victory, and nothing accelerates a debate like a political fight. And while there are many possible places to have this fight, by far the most likely arenda in which to watch the different forces at play will be John Bolton's confirmation vote in the Senate in September. We'll learn just how committed the Democratic Party insiders are to opposing Bush's foreign policy objectives in the wake of Ned Lamont's stunning victory.

Here's a bit of a recap of who Bolton is, and why this fight matters. John Bolton, an heir to Jesse Helms' pugnaciously nationalistic ideology, was successfully filibustered in 2005 by the Senate when Bush tried to appoint him as U.N. ambassador. It was the first sign that the Democratic Party was willing to fight to change the disastrously unilateral foreign policy of the Bush administration. Still, while Bolton wasn't confirmed, Bush did select him to the position as a recess appointee. As a result, Bolton must be renominated and confirmed by the Senate. The loss was a crushing blow to Bush's political momentum, and 2005 was a horrible political year for Bush.

Now, during the first filibuster, Lieberman didn't take a position for or against Bolton, and since Bolton didn't come up for a vote, he didn't have to. But indications suggest that he would have voted for him. [update: As John Mills pointed out in the comments, the Thinkprogress post is wrong. Lieberman voted against cloture twice (roll call vote here and here), though he was heavily targeted by the White House as a potential supporter.] With Lieberman's defeat by Lamont and his consequent move towards a campaign based on fear-mongering and capturing Republican votes, I imagine that he'll become a reliable pro-Bolton vote. But there's a bit more to it than that.

You see, both Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton are considering switching their vote on Bolton, and there's probably a bunch of Senators who will follow them. Schumer in particular has been awful, publicly saying that there will probably be no filibuster of Bolton. So here we have a clear progressive electoral victory over the most right-wing Democrat, combined with a horrible year for Bush and a clearly disastrous foreign policy, and yet his nominee to the U.N. has an easier path to nomination. Why would Democrats even consider ratifying Bush's foreign policy through Bolton?

Many of you will not like this answer, just as I didn't like discovering it, but the reality is that right-wing wealthy neoconservatives, whose pet project is Israel, are the ones who are forcing the Democrats to the right. After 9/11, a special breed of incredibly wealthy coastal elites that I call 'Bloomberg Democrats' after their desire to have Michael Bloomberg run on a third-party presidential unity ticket went sharply to the right in their foreign policy thinking. Lieberman is part of this group, always supportive of Israeli hawkishness, but whose fearful instincts were unleashed by 9/11. Torture, lies, dead soldiers, a collapse of American moral authority -- all of these pale in comparison to Islamofascism, but it's cool, because they are pro-choice and made a lot of money. That's the type.

While originally distinct from the main branch of neoconservatives whose focus was Iraq, the Bloomberg Democrats have gradually conflated their sympathies towards Israel with a bloody desire to get rid of the American "honest broker" status in the Middle East, and have become fully integrated into the neoconservative mainstream. While once they were just pro-Israel as I am, like many progressive Jews I moved left, while Bloomberg Democrats have graduated to become full-fledged neoconservative sociopaths. Even as the Israeli public itself is no longer particularly enthusiastic about its Lebanese incursion, AIPAC's hold on Congress prevents any real discussion of American Israeli interests in any context but that of Israel getting 100 percent blind support for anything it wants to do, even if what it wants to do is spy on America. It's the 'with us or against us' mindset.

This neocon PAC money is incredibly pervasive among both parties, and that it's now being used to push Bolton significantly changes the battle lines of his renomination. Israel wasn't a factor in Bolton's first nomination; now Bolton and Israel are seen as the same thing, and the AIPAC neocons have moved in their artillery behind his nomination. Schumer's amazingly successful DSCC fundraising has come at least in some part from this neoconservative money, and Sen. Clinton is making the rounds. Her latest fundraiser was with Norpac, a neoconservative Israel-focused PAC that has lent support to Bush/Cheney '04, Rick Santorum, Jon Kyl, Mike Ferguson, Ben Nelson, Joe Lieberman, Steny Hoyer, Conrad Burns, Bob Menendez and Nancy Pelosi. Even though you might think that the Lieberman defeat would embolden the Democrats, the Bolton fight and the Lieberman loss have been linked together explicitly by neo-conservative PACs, and prominent orthodox right-wing Jewish leaders are calling on Jews to abandon the Democratic Party for being insufficiently supportive of Israel's failed war in Lebanon.

The sad hijacking of Jewish political activism by right-wing neoconservative crazies is complete. If you're not with Lieberman, if you're not with Bolton, if you're not with the far right of the Israeli political spectrum, you're not pro-Israel. I have to say it's pretty frustrating. Every time I find a political obstacle to a more progressive American posture abroad, it seems like there's another more hidden and intractable one behind it. It's shocking to me that there are no effective progressive Jewish groups focusing on foreign policy. The only ones I've seen are pathetic, wonkified and largely unwilling to deal with the reality of a crazy domestic right-wing leadership structure.

Anyway, with the war in Lebanon ending and Lieberman's defeat showing that there's a political constituency for a sane multilateral approach to foreign policy, the Democratic Party has a real opportunity on its hands to stake out a progressive foreign policy path. That starts with Bolton. Or rather, Bolton will show which Democrats really understand what Connecticut Democrats were trying to say, and which ones are only listening, despite all the populist outrage in the hinterland, to the Beltway elite.

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