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NO HIPPIES NEED BE APPLIED! Digby mocks Alter's irrational fear. We think Dig's overstating: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, AUGUST 1, 2006

PEOPLE ALSO LIKED IKE—AND RONNIE: Yesterday, Atrios asked a straightforward, if semi-odd, question. “I'm not posting this to be critical,” he wrote. “I'm genuinely perplexed. Why do some people like Lieberman? What, really, is there to like about the guy?”

Atrios linked to this post by Josh Marshall; after noting Lieberman’s “obvious self-immolation,” Josh said he found the whole thing painful to watch. “I still can’t help liking the guy,” he said. Atrios then linked to Matt Stoller, who had said that he “didn’t fully understand” Josh’s comments. (Note: In today’s Post, E. J. Dionne cops to the man-like, too. You know what to do—just click here.)

Obviously, we can’t speak for Josh—or for E. J. But for what it’s worth, we’d guess we know why people like Lieberman; they like him because he’s a likeable person. We did a few charity events with him in the late 1990s, and he was very droll and very amusing—a lot of fun to be around. (Lieberman is actually funny, by the standards of professionally funny.) “What is there to like about the guy?” Simply put, he’s a likeable person. That isn’t a reason to vote for the guy. But it would explain why people like him.

A few years later, we had a similar experience with Bob Dole, long an open press corps favorite. We were engaged, we think through the gang at The Hotline, to do an unusual comedy gig. (It aired on C-SPAN—or at least, it got taped.) The event? The Doles’ next-door neighbor had written a biography of their recently-deceased schnauzer, Leader, and the Doles were hosting a book party for her. We did a short presentation of some sort (sorry, no—we can’t recall). But after the formalities, the Doles hung around—and it was instantly clear why Dole had been such a long-time favorite of so many people. Simply put, he was very droll and very amusing, very much as Lieberman is. By contrast, Elizabeth Dole was fairly aloof—but it took about ten seconds to see why her husband was so widely liked. And it wasn’t just us! We were there with a very partisan Dem; she was quickly in-love-with-Bob-Dole. As we recall, she was almost inspired by what a nice guy Bob Dole was.

In our view, Lieberman has earned his way out, and we’d never recommend voting for someone based on whether he’s fun to hang out with. (We leave such advice to professional pundits.) But why do so many people like Lieberman? “What, really, is there to like about the guy?” To tell you the truth, it’s a semi-strange question. Likeable people don’t all act alike. In what world don’t we already know that?

ALMOST SURELY, A BETTER BOOK: It’s one of our all-time favorite books! That would be Flush, by Virginia Woolf, a biography of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s pet spaniel. We were a sophomore in college when we stumbled upon it; we parceled ourselves one chapter a day until, alas, it was finally over. (We sat in a nook, by that little window, and looked out at a small slice of that river.) “Flush was growing an old dog now.” Heartily, we recommend.

NO HIPPIES NEED BE APPLIED: For the record, we don’t agree with the general thrust of Jonathan Alter’s new Lieberman column. We’d call this his nugget statement—and no, we aren’t on board:

ALTER: [T]here's something psychologically deeper going on in this campaign that is both understandable and depressing—a cannibalistic distraction from what should be the top priority of Democrats, namely booting Republicans. The same Democrats who are justifiably angry with Lieberman for not holding Bush accountable are harming efforts to, well, hold Bush accountable.
We don’t really agree with that. We don’t see why challenging Lieberman in the primary is a distraction from “booting Republicans” elsewhere, or from “holding Bush accountable.” (It would be better, of course, if the challenge weren’t needed.) Meanwhile, we have other complaints about this column, starting with its ridiculous opener, that ridiculous Monica anecdote. Good grief! Is even Alter pimping Monica now? Will they ever get her out of their minds? By the way, calling her a “former intern” is like calling her a “former kindergartner.” Lewinsky was no longer an intern when she met and hooked up with Bill. Reciting that “former intern” crap has always been just one more way to pimp up the Monica volume.

So no, we don’t agree with Jonathan’s general thrust. But we don’t disagree with everything he says—and we think Digby’s reaction to his column is a bit one-sided. The Digster cites the following passage—and mockingly says that it stems from Alter’s “irrational fear of hippies:”

ALTER: [T]he Senate needs collegial moderates who work across party lines. It's the only way to stop the really bad stuff. And the revival of the romance of the antiwar left is a potential disaster for the Democrats. That's what gave the world Richard Nixon in 1968, when ideologically pure liberals who had backed Eugene McCarthy in the primaries refused to rally around Hubert Humphrey because Humphrey was "complicit" in the Vietnam War machine.
Digby notes that this year’s Nutmeg primary isn’t just like 1968. That’s true, but Alter’s general point is a bit stronger than that. Dems have suffered from “the romance of the left” more recently than 1968, after all. For example, just by omitting the word “antiwar,” Alter could have said this:
ALTER REVISED: And the revival of the romance of the left is a potential disaster for the Democrats. That's what gave the world George W. Bush in 2000, when ideologically pure liberals who had backed Bill Bradley in the primaries refused to rally around Al Gore because Gore was...
Go ahead—fill in the blank. But yes, some “romantic liberals” went away mad from the 2000 primaries, then dragged their feet about Gore after that. And no, it didn’t help. Or Alter could have written this about another “ideologically pure” cohort:
ALTER REVISED: And the revival of the romance of the left is a potential disaster for the Democrats. That's what gave the world George W. Bush in 2000, when ideologically pure progressives who backed Ralph Nader refused to rally around Al Gore because Gore was...
Because Gore was just as bad as Bush? How sad does that theory sound now?

People are free to vote as they please, and to do their politics as they see fit. Unlike some others, we’ve never criticized the 2000 Nader campaign; we did think the grumbling Bradley brigade was a wee bit sillier. But good grief! Democrats have often paid at the polls because of the “romantic left,” and our liberal web is now ablaze in derogatory nicknames about Major Dems. (“Holy Joe” just being one); we also see embellished anecdotes which stress these Democrats’ terrible failings. You don’t need an irrational fear to be concerned about what could come. Our fear? Come 2008, the RNC may be able to take the year off! This time around, we liberals and progressives may be prepared to dream up their anecdotes for them!

We vote for Dems because they’re better than Reps, not because we think they’re perfect. At the same time, we think it’s good when the feisty Lamonts come along and challenge the slumbering Liebermans. In general, we think it’s good for the party—and Lieberman has been a wreck on Iraq. Digby wants an ardent party—and we don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. But we think it’s wrong to act as if Alter is totally blowing smoke in this passage. There was a children’s crusade back in 68—and Democrats paid for it, for a long time. We’re concerned about a small revival. It feels good to roll our eyes and say that it’s all about crazy fear of hippies. But then, if recollection serves, a lot of things that people said felt good back in 68 too.