It's an argument you hear with depressing familiarity: If you don't embrace the "hawkish" positions of Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden and Joe Lieberman on Iraq, then you're automatically a partisan who's putting the interests of the Democratic Party before those of America. Today Marshall Wittman writes:
"To their credit, Joe Biden and Joe Lieberman are two additional high-profile Democrats who have put country before partisanship when it comes to foreign policy...And, of course, Joe Lieberman refuses to waver. While many politicians claim not to be guided by polls, Joe truly puts principle first. He is a profile in courage. The scorn of puerile bloggers and assorted lefties should be worn as a badge of honor.
"America needs folks like Hillary, Biden and Lieberman. Country before party."
Is there any way I can object to Wittman's argument without being instantly labeled "puerile"? Probably not. But I'm going to try, anyway, and hope for the best.
There are several basic problems here. The first is that Wittman assumes that virtually anyone who doesn't agree with Biden and Liberman is automatically doing so out of partisanship. Wittman tries to compensate for this obviously ridiculous assumption by allowing that there may be two liberals out there -- Russ Feingold and Ted Kennedy -- who are motivated by principles. But clearly Wittman must think the rest of the world's unnamed liberals are driven by nothing but partisanship, since he accuses them of putting party before country.
This automatic assumption of bad faith on the part of every liberal on the planet who disagrees with him (yes, yes, except for Feingold and Kennedy) makes any reasoned discussion over what to do about Iraq impossible. What's more, it's also unclear why the eventual withdrawal position of some Dems is a craven capitulation to the "base," as Wittman says. The most recent U.S.A. Today poll shows that 49 percent of Americans favor withdrawal immediately or within 12 months. Meanwhile, 48 percent favor staying as long as necessary or adding troops. Got that? A shade more Americans favor withdrawal than favor staying. How then is eventual withdrawal automatically the Dem base position?
Finally -- and this is the crux of it -- if you believe that the country would be better off if Dems are in power, then that means you believe that the interests of both party and country are intertwined. I don't have any idea whether Wittman thinks America would be better off if Dems were in charge. But the "partisans" he's criticizing obviously do -- that's what makes them partisans, after all. Hence, whenever they undertake an action they think would benefit the party, they're simultaneously undertaking an action they think will benefit the country, too. Indeed, given the frequent argument by Republicans, pundits, and even Wittman himself that "anti-war liberals" are doing grave damage to the Democratic Party, aren't the people who favor eventual withdrawal -- at apparent political risk to their own party -- the ones who are really placing country before party?
Bottom line: the whole "country before party" rhetorical gimmick is a ruse, pure and simple. And I'm very sorry to be so puerile about it.
Adapted from a post at The Horse's Mouth.