My last, sunnily optimistic post about Bush's likely defeat on Social Security has already been interpreted by Matt Yglesias and Atrios as an effort to provide "political cover" for Joe Lieberman's reported effort to cut a bogus "deal" with Lindsay Graham. Wrong-o, folks.
What I actually said, not very ambiguously, is that one of two Dems ain't going to save Bush's bacon on this. After acknowledging that I might be right (or wrong) about that, Matt argues that the possible irrelevance of Lieberman's deal-sniffing is "no excuse for doing it." I agree entirely.
Let me be clear about this: I see no political or substantive justification for Lieberman offering to reach agreement with GOPers on Social Security, particularly at this moment. It's a very bad idea. And this pains me far more, I am sure, than it pains guys like Atrios who've probably wanted to throw Joe off a cliff for years now. And if the reports are true, it represents the sort of pattern of misjudgment (e.g., the framing of the homeland security debate, and, in tandem with Dick Gephardt, the quick embrace of Bush's version of the Iraq war resolution) that led a sizeable number of New Dems to support other candidates for president (some for Edwards, some for Clark, some for Dean, some, like me, for Kerry) in the 2004 primaries.
Having said that, I'd be lying to you if I got on the bandwagon and said I believed a Lieberman step towards a "deal" on Social Security was something to panic about, or, as Matt put it, "exactly the thing [the Bushies] need to regain momentum on this issue." Worst-case scenario is that Lieberman gets a press conference with a couple of Republican Senators, after which the Right howls down the idea of a payroll tax increase and Democrats disassociate themselves in masse from Lieberman's position. It's still a really bad idea, but it will be Lieberman, not Democrats or Social Security itself, who will be the loser.
Look, I've tried to be a Party Unity Eagle Scout since starting my own blog, despite a lot of provocation to get into fights over stereotypes about the DLC held by people who aren't much interested in reading what I have to say unless it reinforces those stereotypes. So I understand the need for unity on Social Security and other topics right now. But unity is a means to an end--beating Bush on the dangerous things he's trying to do to our country, and working towards a strong, alternative progressive message for Democrats that expands our base. It shouldn't become a complete end in itself.
Right now the blogosphere is full of talk about litmus tests and purges, whether or not they contribute to either of those goals. And if the email I'm getting about Lieberman is any indication, we're getting close to litmus tests and purges about litmus tests and purges ("Are you now, or have you ever been, opposed to kicking Joe Lieberman out of the party?").
So let's keep a little perspective about what's primary and secondary in the fights just ahead. Maybe the hellish pressure on Lieberman to step back from a bogus deal will work, maybe not. If he goes ahead, let's make it clear he does not speak for other Democrats, and minimize the potential damage instead of acting like Bush has already won. And after we win, there will be plenty of time to play back the tapes and pin the tail on errant donkeys, in a calmer climate.