A Single Issue Is Sometimes Enough

07/09/2006 05:01 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

With extraordinary bipartisan generosity (is there any other explanation?), David Brooks, the genial rightwing apologist, launched a stirring defense of Joe Lieberman in his column in Sunday's New York Times. Brooks professes himself dazzled with Lieberman's liberal credentials.

The Connecticut senator, of course, faces a strong challenge in the Democratic primary because of his unflagging enthusiasm for George W. Bush's war.

Brooks devoted his time and energy Sunday morning (what a nice man) to saving the Democratic Party from itself, warning Democrats about the disastrous consequences of such "zealous assaults" as Ned Lamont is making on a poor, trusty, principled, liberal hero. Brooks deplores this "liberal inquisition," calling "the effort to expel Lieberman from modern liberalism...a dark parody of the old struggle between Eugene McCarthy and Hubert Humphrey." (Is invoking Vietnam, even peripherally, really such a good idea for administration flacks.)

What exactly causes Brooks such bipartisan anguish?

Someone who disagrees with an incumbent senator on a very important issue is challenging that senator in a primary election.

Is that really a bad thing, for the country or the party? It's surprising how many on the right and even on the nominal left (including Lieberman himself) apparently don't much care for such a valuable democratic (small "d") institution as a primary election. Lieberman has announced that if the people in their wisdom fail to choose him as their candidate, he will ignore them, buck the party, and run as an "Independent Democrat." It's easy to see why David Brooks might find that appealing, a little harder to see why any Democrat continues to support him at all.

Brooks couches his defense of the leading Bush Democrat in supercilious Foxspeak. Those who back Lamont, the anti-war candidate, are not being fair and balanced, always a big mistake: so the smug dervishes of the no-spin-zone begin their dance, spreading confusion in the clouds of dust they raise.

But what grave mistake are the anti-war people making, just because they believe it is of paramount importance to oppose this deceitfully manipulated, delusionally misbegotten, inadequately funded, woefully mismanaged, corruptly administered, regionally destabilizing, internationally condemned, and murderously destructive war? Brooks is happy to explain: "A lifetime's record is deemed not to matter any longer," he writes, with a Fox's typical sympathy for misunderstood hens. "For in the midst of the inquisition all of American liberalism has been reduced to one issue, the war."

Brooks is no hypocrite, is he? His own support for Lieberman is based on many, many issues--support for the Republican war is only part of it. There's that terrific liberal record, too--surely that's what tipped the fair-and-balance and won the heart, mind, and Sunday column of the amiable opiner.

The familiar Rove-O'Reilly-Republican spin is transparent. Of course liberals are apt to develop unruly convictions about some principle or other, but what about moderation? Who can say anything against moderation? What about the big picture, too, while we're at it? What about patriotism, and supporting the troops, and staying the course, and protecting the flag and the Ten Commandments, and Saddam Hussein and 9/11? Moderation, please.

Let's expose this morning's talking point by substituting other words for "the war" in Brooks's dim little formulation.

"...has been reduced to one issue, slavery."

"...has been reduced to one issue, child molestation."

"...has been reduced to one issue, the attack on Pearl Harbor."

"...has been reduced to one issue, defending the Constitution.'

"...has been reduced to one issue, extermination of the Jews."

A single issue is sometimes enough. I'm sure that most of the ones I mention (though there is one ringer) would be morally compelling, all by themselves, even for the very best spinners of the Grand Old Party of Lincoln and Coulter. Is the War in Iraq such a compelling single issue? We'll all have to read and watch and listen and debate and make up our own minds about that, won't we? We know what David Brooks thinks, and reading his columns is part of how we inform ourselves, part of how we engage with each other and join the debate. Perhaps, however, Brooks shouldn't be fretting so much about this perceived crisis in the Democratic Party. Let him rejoice, instead. Let him take heart that in the matter of Lieberman versus Lamont, in 2006, in Connecticut, USA, the people in their wisdom are debating this issue and its significance in the moral scheme of things and will then decide for themselves, with their ballots.