Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Lemont v. Lieberman

The people over at Crooks and Liars seem to be somewhat upset that Joe Lieberman has decided to run as an Independent, after losing in the Democratic Primary to Ned Lamont. They appear to be of the opinion that this type of behavior is shameful -- that a good and decent individual would be averse to doing such a thing.

Instead, it is shameful to be condemning somebody who decides to run as an independent if a party rejects their views.

This posting is not in any way an endorsement of Lieberman. This posting is a discussion of some of the moral issues surrounding political choices. The conclusion is that those who wish to shame a person who runs as an Independent are wrong to do so. In this case, they betray the very same moral characteristics that they have been condemning in others for the past six years.

Hypocrisy in Rallying Around the Leader

It is interesting to note that one of the criticisms that C&L has leveled against Joe Lieberman rests on the assumption that being a loyal Party member means rallying around whomever the party selects as its leader regardless of one’s personal views – that party loyalty trumps all other considerations. Yet, C&L ridicules Joe Lieberman for asserting that being a loyal American means rallying around whomever the country selects as its leader regardless of one’s personal views – that national loyalty trumps all other considerations.

Apparently, the moral doctrine of rallying around the leader applies only to leaders that the people at Crooks and Liars support. If they identify a leader as worthwhile, then all others are supposed to set aside their separate opinion and do as the people at C&L tell them to do. If, however, they have objections to any given leader, then there is clearly no moral doctrine or principle that commends rallying around the leader.

There are clearly times when one has a moral obligation to line up behind and support a leader. There are times when this type of behavior support catastrophe. If an ocean liner hits an iceberg and it becomes necessary to get as many people into lifeboats as quickly as possible, this is a good time to start listening to a leader and cooperating with his efforts to address the problem.

It is not sufficient that somebody else has a "better idea." The "better idea" needs to be so much better than the current leader's plan that it is worth all of the costs associated with getting the new plan adopted and getting everybody up to speed on the new plan. Otherwise, the new plan does not, in fact, pass a cost-benefit analysis. That is to day, they it does not pass a rational cost-benefit analysis. Those costs have to include the costs of getting people up to speed on the new plan.

However, the Connecticut election is not one of these 'emergency situations' that require the suppression of individuality to accomplish its ends. The end should be to get the best representative by and for the state of Colorado. This is what a person of good moral character should be striving for. For the reasons that I stated above, it is unreasonable to expect either political party to produce a candidate that best represents the people of Connecticut as a whole. The primary process guarantees that their choices will be selected from among two candidates, neither of which represents the whole of the population of Connecticut.

Indeed, the very purpose of a political campaign is to engage in debate. Rallying around the leader is reserved for situations where there is no time to debate; elections are institutions for engaging in debate. The very idea of rallying around a leader stands as a contradiction to the very purpose and function of an election campaign.

So, Lieberman has no duty to rally around the Democratic leader. The Democratic Party has picked a non-representative candidate for the people of Connecticut, and Lieberman still has the opportunity to say, "I seek to be the candidate that represents all of the people of Connecticut."

I would like to quickly add that being a representative of the whole of the population is not necessarily a good thing. This depends on the moral character of the whole population. If the moral character of the population as a whole is low, then the moral character of any representative of the people and of the policies he pursues are going to suffer the same moral faults. We see this in Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, and among the Palestinians where the low moral quality of the people has resulted in the election of leaders of low moral quality.

Lamont's Position on the Iraq War

I also would like to add that I still have moral objections to the stand that Lamont has drawn on the war, demanding an American withdraw.

It is not that I am in favor of keeping troops in Iraq. In fact, my position is that I do not know which option is best. More importantly, I hold that anybody who claims to know the best answer, who does not have something equivalent to a degree in middle eastern studies and a great deal of information on the current political system, is not qualified to give an opinion on the matter.

Bush got us into trouble because he launched a 'faith-based' invasion of Iraq. He had faith that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. He had faith that we would be welcomed as liberators. He had faith that the people of Iraq would immediately embrace freedom and democracy and would serve as an example of what the rest of the people around the Middle East could hope for if they followed the American model.

The idea was to make Iraq a shining example of democracy. What the Bush Administration has done is given the rest of the Arab world a shining example of unrestrained violence, a completely failed economy, and a government that is impotent to do anything about it.

Yet, those who argue for withdraw also seem to be replacing one faith-based strategy with another. What will happen if we pull out of Iraq? How will this affect Iran and, in affecting Iran, affect Hezbollah, and Israel, and Syria, and Egypt?

Here is a question: Can you assure me that the innocent children of Iraq will be better off if we leave?

Those who defend withdraw may try to counter this by asking, “Can you assure me that the innocent children of Iraq will be better off if we stay?”

My answer to this is that I do not know. However, I do not need to know. I admit that I do not know what the best option is. However, the advocates of withdraw are saying that they DO know what the best answer is. This suggests that they have worked out at least some of the more important particulars. One of those important particulars would have to be the answer to the question, “What will happen to the children of Iraq?”

After all, one of the possible answers to the question – and one of the answers any rational American would be concerned about – is the answer, “They will become anti-American terrorists eagerly volunteering to fight against our interests wherever they can at whatever tools are at their disposal, as punishment for what we caused to happen in Iraq.”

Ned Lamont, on his web site, makes no predictions about what will happen if we pull out. Indeed, there is nothing on his web site inconsistent with the position, "I do not have any idea what will happen to the children of Iraq and, more importantly, I could not care less."

Those who advocate leaving, it seems, should be able to answer this question. If they cannot, I see no way to interpret this but as saying, “I don’t care; let the brats die (or worse).” I would find it difficult to make the case that those who would shrug their shoulders in apathy over the fate of innocent children are taking the moral high ground.

By the way, if people actually do decide to give a serious attention to the question of what we should do in Iraq, I would like to suggest an option to study – that we stay in Iraq, and we teach the people there what the principles of justice and civil liberties by practicing what we preach -- making the best effort possible to protect the innocent by using procedural safeguards such as trial by jury and a presumption of innocence while banning cruel and unusual punishment.

I would like to see what happens if we defend the principles of liberty and justice by actually defending the principles of liberty and justice. I fear that Bush’s greatest legacy will rest in the fact that, by his example, he has taught the rest of the world such a powerful lesson in contempt for the principles of liberty and justice.


So, do I support Lamont or Lieberman?

That question is not even relevant to this posting. I write my posts for the purpose of discussing moral principles and applying them to real-world situations. I really have no opinion on the Lamont/Lieberman conflict.

This posting was written to discuss the principle of loyalty to a party or national leader and the degree to which one may be obligated to stand behind that person. I also wrote it to discuss the idea that no moral person can claim to know what to do in Iraq unless and until they have a reasonable, defensible answer to the question, “What will happen to the children?”


vjack said...

I detest the American 2-party system and would welcome a multi-party system that allows voters to support someone who shares their views. I agree that Lieberman should feel no obligation to follow the demands of the Democratic party. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out.

Anonymous said...

I actually feel that Lieberman should not have attempted to run as an independant. By attempting to gain the support of the Democratic party by running in their primary, it is implicit that if you lose you will support the eventual winner. That is the entire purpose of a primary - to choose the best representative of the Democratic party, and to unite as many Democratic votes behind him as possible. If you participate in this process, you must accept the results. You are certainly not required to participate, you can run as an independant from the outset. But running as a Democrat and then going Independant when you lose the primary is breaking the implicit contract.

Furthermore, it is counter-productive. You mentioned in a previous post that we are currently a 2 party state. The people that benifit most from any 3rd party entering a race are those that are the most opposed to that 3rd party's views. I can't reference the specific date of the post, but it was within the last 4 weeks I believe.