The John McCain World Tour is apparently over, having rocked the house in several Middle Eastern and European cities. It didn't get as much publicity as the senator might have hoped, what with the United States engaged in a vital debate over whether or not Barack Obama's former pastor should be allowed to speak at the next American Legion convention. But I'm sure someone in Baghdad right now is wearing the official tour t-shirt, albeit under about twenty pounds of armor and Kevlar.
Having dispatched the lesser life forms that once challenged him for the GOP presidential nomination, McCain evidently decided it was time to remind voters that he has foreign policy credentials, though nobody has identified for certain exactly what they are. His current calling card is the fact that he supported the troop "surge" that preceded—but did not necessarily cause—a reduction in violence and American casualties in Iraq. It probably didn't help that, within a week of McCain taking his victory lap around Mesopotamia, the U.S. death toll hit 4,000 and violence looked again to be on a slight uptick. On the other hand, it probably didn't hurt much, either, since there may not be ten Americans left who have yet to make up their minds about the wisdom of George W. Bush's current war of choice.
The most enduring memory of McCain's tour was the sight of Joe Lieberman whispering in the candidate's ear, reminding this expert on all things international that Sunni al Qaeda and Shi'a Iran don't much care for one another. Indeed, if the actions of the Bush administration ever did succeed in joining Osama in common cause with the Ayatollahs, that disaster alone that would supersede every other disaster caused by the president over his seven disastrous years in office. At least then, we'd finally understand what he meant back in 2000 when he called himself a "uniter".
But the link between Osama and Iran, as it turns out, exists only in John McCain's head, where it is apparently as unmovable as his preference for big band music and 78-rpm phonograph records. And before you call me ageist, please understand that this is not my opinion. Rather, it is the conclusion of former journalist Brit Hume, who offered, in damning defense of McCain's blunder, that the senator may simply have suffered a "senior moment". Which is exactly how a 72-year old candidate wants to be remembered by the electorate. Had Hillary Clinton or, especially, Barack Obama employed that phrase to describe McCain, Hume's Fox News employers would have broadcast a five-part series on "Why the Democrats Hate Older Americans".
Anyway, I do have a point here. As embarrassing as it may have been to see Lieberman correct his hero in front of an international audience, it would have been far worse if McCain's words had simply remained out there, waiting for the Democrats to pick the proper time to pounce. Let's face it: if John McCain doesn't have foreign policy credibility, he doesn't have much. His credentials on campaign finance reform basically evaporated the day he decided to game the system to accept, and then conveniently reject, public funding. Unless the voters decide that this is the guy they want at the helm the next time a crisis occurs, Senator McCain has little claim on anyone's support.
So Lieberman's role in the Republican campaign should not be underestimated. Already, the 2000 Democratic vice presidential nominee has twice saved McCain's bacon (the other time came when McCain decided to label Purim as the Jewish Halloween; Lieberman took the blame for incompletely informing his friend about the nature of the holiday). It would not surprise anyone to see the former Democrat give a nominating speech at the GOP convention, a turn of events that would be far more devastating than the liberal blogosphere imagines. This would not be crazy-uncle-in-the-attic Zell Miller, all bulgy-eyed and sputtering, carrying on about them lib'ruls and revenuers. This would be the man who Al Gore selected less than a decade ago to serve one heartbeat away from the Oval Office.
Joe Lieberman was never my idea of the perfect Democrat. He got to office by running to the right of incumbent Republican Lowell Weicker, a man who, like him or not, possessed even more integrity than Lieberman pretends to have on his most sanctimonious day. Once in office, Lieberman's generally liberal voting record could not obscure the fact that he was, culturally, well to the right of his party, forever prattling on about the evils of various popular culture forms, such as rap music. When Bill Clinton was facing down the Republicans' attempt at a sex scandal coup, it was Lieberman who took the highly publicized opportunity to gain national attention by stabbing his one-time ally in the back with a characteristically prudish speech from the Senate floor.
Nevertheless, Lieberman was a Democrat and, other than his support for the Iraq War, a fairly liberal one, at least in terms of his voting record. His partisanship tethered him to some extent and prevented him from, for example, endorsing George W. Bush for re-election. Parties are big tents, and big tents have clowns. Professionals learn how to live with that fact.
Next door in Rhode Island, the GOP had their own outlier, in the form of left-wing Senator Lincoln Chafee. In 2006, the national Republicans did everything they could to help Chafee win re-election, even going so far as to help defeat a conservative primary opponent. They succeeded, though Chafee lost in the general election anyhow.
The left blogosphere, on the other hand, in a startling case of political naïveté, decided that they should back Lieberman's liberal challenger, Ned Lamont. They were overjoyed when Lamont edged the incumbent in the Democratic primary, only to find out to their dismay that Lieberman, under Connecticut law, could still mount an independent candidacy. The GOP, teaching the internet kids a lesson, backed the former Democrat. Lamont turned out to be an inferior candidate, and Lieberman was re-elected, this time with a huge chip on his shoulder.
The folks over at Daily Kos spend quite a bit of time patting themselves on the back over their questionable contributions to the Democrats' resurgence in 2006. Rarely, however, do they take a step back and engage in serious soul-searching about their unfortunate role in the transformation of Joe Lieberman from hawkish Democrat to McCain cheerleader. Not only did the Lieberman affair tarnish what would otherwise have been a clear Democratic takeover of the Senate in 2006, it also unleashed a monster, a well-respected national figure able to call his former party out at the worst possible time.
There is an arrogance to the left blogosphere, a youthful sense that enthusiasm trumps reflection and that a community of thousands cannot be defeated. But two years ago in Connecticut it was defeated, and the Democratic Party continues to pay the price for the careless hubris of young men and women who seem to think that they created populism (George McGovern's supporters thought the same thing back in 1972). Even now, the bloggers continue to funnel precious money into primary challenges against flawed Democratic incumbents who nevertheless provide the party with its slender congressional majorities.
And now they have decided that only Barack Obama can lead the Democrats out of the wilderness and take the White House back from the GOP. They may, perhaps, be right. But their track record offers little in the way of reassurance. Indeed, their greatest blunder—the elevation of Joe Lieberman to top McCain lieutenant—may yet help to seal their candidate's fate in November.