TCS Daily

Why Political Heretics Are Worse Than Infidels

By James Pinkerton - August 11, 2006 12:00 AM

Joe Lieberman is a heretic. Please don't get me wrong. Nobody, not even Lieberman's enemies, questions the Connecticut Senator's abiding Orthodox Jewish religious faith. But as Tuesday's primary election shows, a majority of Nutmeg State Democrats see their senator as disloyal to the party line, which is increasingly dovish on Iraq. And a heretic, of course, is much worse than an infidel.

So Lieberman had not only to be defeated, but to be crushed and vilified. Which he was. Lieberman supporter Lanny Davis detailed in the pages of The Wall Street Journal all "the hate and vitriol of bloggers on the liberal side of the aisle" that poured down on his candidate, including scurrilous anti-Semitism.

Here's the distinction: An infidel is someone who never believed what you believe; an infidel is a stranger, and so there's not much point in investing emotions in him. But a heretic is someone you know well, someone who once believed what you believe, but now has a different faith -- that's much more threatening. You often fight wars against infidels, and in those wars you seek to defeat, even destroy, the enemy. But with heretics, even tougher measures are needed, because the threat of heresy is so much more insidious, threatening to eat away the true faith. So you launch inquisitions against heretics, to eliminate even the thought of heresy. The proper anti-heretical strategy is to torture 'em, make 'em confess, make 'em repent -- and then kill 'em.

Happily, American politics isn't nearly so brutal, albeit still intense. And yet the basic heretics vs. infidels dichotomy explains why intra-party fights are so much more bitter than inter-party fights. To this day, for example, the Democrats know Which Side They Were On in big intra-party feuds -- even if they were too young actually to have been part of the feud.

We might consider, for example, one epochal feud-year for the Democrats: 1948. That was the year that lefty Democrats split off from the party, and from President Harry Truman, to join the pro-Soviet third-party candidacy of former vice president Henry Wallace. Six decades later, that sundering still echoes; The New Republic's Peter Beinart, himself born in the 70s, published a book that revisits 1948. Its militant title, The Good Fight: Why Liberals -- and Only Liberals -- Can Win the War on Terror and Make America Great Again, signals Beinart's message for today: that the fight against hawkish heretical Democrats has gone too far -- and that the answer is to fight right back. He wants Democrats to draw inspiration from past struggles, from the days when Cold War liberals battled crypto-communists. And so Beinart supported Lieberman, of course, against the primary campaign waged against the incumbent by challenger Ned Lamont. Needless to say, Beinart's left-bashing has been reciprocated by plenty of Beinart-bashing from lefties, including The Nation's Eric Alterman. And so the guns of 1948 are still not silenced, and the wounds are still open.

To further underscore the bitterness of intra-party squabbles, it's worth remembering that there was actually a second breakaway campaign from the Democrats in 1948, and people still remember that split, too. Gov. Strom Thurmond, Democrat of South Carolina, outraged by Truman's "progressive" civil rights platform, bolted the party and ran for president in a few Southern states on the segregationist "Dixiecrat" ticket. Young Trent Lott, growing up in a Democratic household in Mississippi, was all of six years old when Thurmond stormed out of the Chicago Democratic convention, but he still remembered that moment in 2002, when he destroyed his own career as Senate Majority Leader by heaping praise on Thurmond's '48 candidacy. Lott has long been a Republican, of course, but his memories of the long-ago War Between the Democrats obviously remained with him, more than a half-century later, still strong and vivid. (Interestingly, in spite of having two intra-party rivals, Truman won a second White House term -- a reminder that intra-party squabbling, while deeply engaging to activists, is not what the country cares most about.)

Another hinge-year for Democrats was 1968, when the anti-war insurgency within the party knocked over President Lyndon B. Johnson as he sought re-nomination and re-election. Lots of conservative Democrats -- the soon-to-be "neoconservatives" -- were so mad as a result that they left the Democratic Party, whereupon the triumphant insurgents heckled "good riddance" at them.

Nor are Republicans spared such intra-party intensity in which heretics are purged. The banner years for GOP feuding include 1964 and 1976. In '64, Sen. Barry Goldwater's conservatives vanquished Gov. Nelson Rockefeller's moderate-liberals, beginning the Sunbelt-ization of the GOP. And in '76, Ronald Reagan's near-upset of an incumbent Republican president, Gerald Ford, set in motion the conservative takeover which holds on to this day; that divisive campaign is lovingly detailed by Reaganite Craig Shirley in his book Reagan's Revolution: The Untold Story of the Campaign That Started It All.

And now, back to the 2006 Democrats. Angry donkeys in Connecticut have purged one of their most popular leaders in a blogosphere-led campaign; the proverbial Army of Democratic Davids have knocked off a Democratic Goliath.

And while Lieberman is notoriously restrained and polite, his own strong feelings about his fellow Dems were visible in the wake of his defeat, as when he said on CNN that Lamont's wing of the Democratic party could "not give assurance to America that we will do what has to be done to protect us from terrorists." Republicans are lapping up such rhetoric, of course, but it's Democrats who are carrying on the fiercest fight -- against each other.

Here's a typical headline bespeaking internecine intensity: "The Sweetness of Lieberman's Defeat." And reacting to the candidate's announced decision to run as an independent, the blog Daily Kos sniped, "Now, Lieberman wants to stab his allies and his party in the back. It won't be the first time." And Arianna Huffington joined in the blog-slaught on Wednesday, decrying "Joe Lieberman's selfish, self-serving, spoiled-rotten attempt to undercut Ned Lamont's historic victory." Then she added, twisting the knife, that Lieberman's third-party run will further undercut the Democrats' chances of retaking Congress in November. Them's fightin'words.

And here's another heretic-burner, Michael Moore, waving around his torch, casting fiery light into the future: "To every Democratic Senator and Congressman who continues to back Bush's War, allow me to inform you that your days in elective office are now numbered. Myself and tens of millions of citizens are going to work hard to actively remove you from any position of power." Once again, we know that Michael Moore-types dislike the Republicans across the aisle, but they reserve a special ferocity for those on their side of the aisle.

And the beat -- make that the beating -- goes on. Looking ahead to the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, pollster Dick Bennett recently shared with The Boston Herald some of the "verbatim" comments he had heard about Hillary Clinton: "lying bitch . . . shrew . . . Machiavellian . . . evil, power-mad witch . . . the ultimate self-serving politician." And here's the kicker: All these comments were from Democrats, most of them angry about the New York Senator's nuanced support for the Iraq war. "I thought there might be some negatives, but I didn't know it would be as strong as this. It's stunning," summed up Bennett.

So far, at least, the "infidels" in this particular Demo-drama, aka the Republicans, can sit back and enjoy the heretic-burning show. But GOPers should be mindful that the same "purifying" process, as we have noted, regularly occurs in their party, too. Is every Republican happy with the Iraq war? Or with hardshell social conservatism? No? Great! Time for a purge! Let's root out those "RINO's" -- Republicans In Name Only. That's what happened to Joe Schwarz on Tuesday.

It didn't get much attention, but on the same day that Lieberman lost his Connecticut primary, Schwarz, a moderate Republican Congressman, was defeated in his Michigan primary. Schwarz had been endorsed by George W. Bush, John McCain, and the National Rifle Association, but that wasn't good enough for GOP voters of the 7th District; he was "impure" on the issues of abortion and stem cell research. As one centrist Michigan observer told The Detroit Free Press, "It seems pretty clear that the extreme right wing was highly motivated and turned out." Speaking in the apocalyptic language that comes comfortably to heretics-busters, conservative activist Gary Bauer declared of the Michigan race, "The right to life and traditional marriage are not wedge issues, they are winning issues. Values issues are not distractions from the business of governing. They are central to the survival of our republic."

Joe Lieberman must know exactly how Joe Schwarz feels. As the AP headline atop Tuesday's news explained, "Activists Targeted Political Moderates". That is, in both parties, the same thing was happening: base-loyalists purged the heretics on the margin. And if that means that the infidels -- the folks in the other party -- are more likely to win the general election, well, that's the price one pays for party purity.

It's deeply satisfying to true believers to practice such "ideological cleansing." And if such behavior is embedded in human nature, it's not about to change. But the challenge to political professionals is to keep their eye on the big picture -- the November elections. Victory, defined as actually winning office, will come to the party that spends less time searching out heretics, and more time figuring out how to defeat the infidels.

The author is TCS Daily Contributing Editor and Media Critic.



Scwartz wasn't much of a moderate.

Lincoln Chaffee
votes to the left of most Democrats and works to undercut the president. Why shouldn't conservative Republicans seek to oust him.

Lieberman on the other hand had a 90% from the ADA. He's a solid liberal and voted with the Democratic leadership on almost every issue.

every once in a while a good purging is needed
shake up the parties a bit then let themselves redefine themselves, stagnation = defeat

MICs in the Middle
So far, at least, the "infidels" in this particular Demo-drama, aka the Republicans, can sit back and enjoy the heretic-burning show. But GOPers should be mindful that the same "purifying" process, as we have noted, regularly occurs in their party, too ... That's what happened to Joe Schwarz on Tuesday.


Moderate,-Independent-Centrists (MICs, as in mic-rophone) are being purged as the parties move to the extremes. The vacuum created by the neglected middle is the opportunity for an anti-party coalition of RINOs and DINOs -- a third wave.

to rhampton
everyone who isn't a communist, is a moderate.

Republican talking points
Pinkerton's essay is a collection of Republican talking points of distortion connected by strings of incoherence. Just for the record:

Those who worked against Lieberman in the primary not only were annoyed that Lieberman supported the Bush conduct of the war in Iraq (other Dems do that to various degrees, including Feinstein of California), they were angry that Lieberman supported the Bush personality cult -- that it is disloyal to criticise the president during war time, including the endless so called war on terror. That's why the "kiss" prop (a float of Bush kissing Lieberman) was so effective in the Lamont campain.

Blogs, even dailykos, represent fringes, not the main stream of any party. Nothing Kos said about Lieberman could compare with what Malkin has said about McCain. Upper class Connecticut Democrats voted against Lieberman (among other reasons) because they thought "staying the course" in Iraq amounts to digging a deeper hole.

The Democratic party bigwigs did not set out to distroy Lieberman. Many liberal Dems (Boxer of California) supported him in the primary. The understanding in any party is that the party supports the winner of the primary against the candidate of the other party and any independents. This means Dean, Clinton, Boxer, etc. will support Lamont over Lieberman. Dean's statement on this was gracious (thanks for 18 years of honorable service) but clear (Lamont is the candidate), as was Huffington's.

Irresponsible Deductive Reasoning
Knowing as you do that I consider Neo-conservatives to be extremists -- not moderates -- you went ahead and conflated Neo-conservative ideology with Communism.

Your logical abilities never fail to amaze me.

This is a very good analysis
and one I agree with. This is what will happen and there will be a viable three-party system in the future; unless one of the present two mutates to include this group (which I don't see happening). I am a MIC, but that doesn't mean I don't have strong opinions on some issues. An all inclusinve party that would put harder to a middle ground solution for everything from the war on terror to abortion, and was a Constitutionally "old-school" based (what it says not what you want it to say) would appeal greatly to me.

I'm not sure of the numbers but, depending on whose you use, only 60% (+/- a few points) are either Democrat or Republican. Less than 50% are hard-core right or left wingers. That creates an opening for a MIC party that could include more than 40% of the voting public and would make it the most powerful party in the country.

Knowing as you do that I consider Neo-conservatives to be extremists .. no kidding?

Why? Explain yourself.

What is a neocon? , what single policy objective will they pursue without regard for other equally important policy objectives?

Or is it just that accutely indoctrinated viscera putting you on knee-jerk autopilot again?

A Neo-conservative's Explanation
For an excellent analysis of the Neo-conservative movement in its two main acts, read:

Fukuyama's Second Thoughts
by Jonah Goldberg
The National Review Online, July 31, 2006

...So the great irony is this: In Fukuyama's telling, the new neoconservatism of Bill Kristol and Robert Kagan emerges as in many respects the OPPOSITE OF THE OLD NEOCONSERVATISM OF IRVING KRISTOL AND NORMAN PODHERTZ. This younger generation, which never went through a disillusionment-migration cycle from Left to Right, simply never internalized the lessons of being deeply wrong about something truly important.

...Fukuyama writes that the new neoconservatives learned the wrong lessons from the cold war and are hence DETERMINED TO USE MILITARY MIGHT IN CIRCUMSTANCES ILL-SUITED TO FORCE. "No one was opposed in principle to the use of soft power," he writes, "they simply hadn't thought about it very much. As the saying goes, when your only tool is a hammer, all problems look like nails."

But Fukuyama has this exactly backwards. The United States has a lot of tools, the military being only one of many ... In reality, the nations that have only a single tool in their belts are our "allies" in the "international community." With the exception of Great Britain, the European nations have virtually no ability to project military power abroad, and combined with their tendency to be SEDUCED AND CORRUPTED BY THE TALKY-TALK OF THE UN & EU and intimidated by large and restive Muslim minorities, it's no wonder that every problem they see looks like a job for diplomacy.

...It seems, however, that America at the Crossroads represents less a serious theoretical exegesis than a momentary crisis of confidence by one of the smartest observers around. It is a snapshot taken at a MOMENT OF MAXIMUM NEOCONSERVATIVE DESPAIR stemming from confusion over the Iraq war and the nature of the Islamist threat. In a Huntington age, he is unwilling to relinquish the vision of a Fukuyama world. As such, this book offers useful insights into the internal contradictions within and among conservative policymakers, but ultimately it creates more bloomin' buzzin' confusion than it dispels.

I love the insight that arises from this disagreemnt between two Neo-conservative's about what their movement is and isn't -- psychologically revealing.

religious faith
Pinkerton is wrong about Lieberman's enemies never questioning his religion-Conservative candidate for Congress Alan Skorski of West Hempstead, LI,NY had the honor of speaking with me years ago and said that Lieberman's divorce was as unorthodox and unacceptable in his community and his pro-choice position was one that many Jews do not believe in. Skorski did not win but may try again, he hasn't spoken with me in years.
Lieberman met me at The Arlington National Cemetary for the Memorial Cairn dedication for the victims of Pan Am Flight #103 in Lockerbie, Scotland, and did not tell me that a special ops forcibly removing "colonel" muammar Gaddaffi from power was underway, so as far as I am concerned, until that is avenged, there is no real war on terrorism and the US Gov., poorly led by Bush Sr., Clinton,and W. is obstructing justice.

we find out how far out on the left wing fringe hampton posts from.
From hampton's perch, communists are moderates, socialists are conservative, everyone else is an extremist.

on thing on which hampton is totally consistent
he can't think for himself.
He also is consistent in that he honestly thinks that anyone person is a spokesperson for an entire movement.

personality cult
In LG's mind (if I can use the term that loosely), anybody who doesn't declare that Bush is worse than Hitler and wants to rule the world, is a member of the Bush personality cult.

'Let's root out those "RINO's" -- Republicans In Name Only. '
Splendid idea- let us start with TCS columnists who write panegyrics for Democratic Senators who earn Vice-Presidential nomination with ADA ratings of 95% and CU ratings of Zero as Al's running mate Joe did in 1999.

Rove on Bush
Republican koolaid: "We are in a war ("war on terror", as long as someone anywhere in the world wishes us ill). As commander in chief, the president gets to conduct the war as he sees fit. Any attempt by congress or the courts to determine policies related to Iraq, domestic spying, prisoner abuse, etc. infringes on Bush's rights as commander in chief."

This is the Bush personality cult (also the claim that he's smart although he has yet to compose for himself a grammatical sentence) (also the claim that disagreeing with the koolaid is equivalent to wanting big & bad Osama to blow up blond Americans in Texas). Lieberman agrees.

Challenge to Mark the snark: make a post where the point you're making takes more words than your feeble attempt to diss me.

Many people do not consider the REPIBLICAN
Many people consider the Republican Party to moving to the right or as they say to be getting more extreme but it was not long ago the republicans wanted to make SS optional. They where also somewhat isolationist and believed in not upsetting things overseas. They where against spreading democracy but said that societies need to move slowly without much push from the outside. They were against nation building. They were for small government. The neocons are the old democrats. And now that their more war like wing has left to the Republican Party the democrats are anti-war.

Funny thing is that the democrats cannot accept their own success but keep pushing further and faster calling laggard republicans, who are still enacting the democrats old goals, extreme.

I think LiberalGoodman might be correct...
...It seems the dems hate Bush much more than they hate his policies. Many dem polls voted for the war.

I think I understand what you said, but what is the point? Is it the democrats pushing to fat a liberal agenda that is causing their problem or are the republicans also fracturing over a too-strong pull to a more hawkish foreign policy going to cause them problems? Or is it both?

LG disses the constitution
Apparently LG doesn't like the idea that the constitution names the President commander in chief.
Which means that he gets to conduct the war as he sees fit.

You don't like it, then change the constitution.
Oh yea, your a liberal, which means to you the constition is just a list of suggestions.

As usual, LG can't make a coherent argument beyond, I hate Bush. And Bush is stupid.

Just keep telling yourself how superior you are to the rest of humanity. Apparently it's the only consulation you have in this life.

War like wing?
World War I - Wilson, Democrat
World War II - Roosevelt, Democrat
Korean War - Truman, Democrat
Vietnam War - Kennedy & Johnson, Democrats
Desert One fiasco - Carter, Democrat
Grenada - Reagan, Republican
Panama - Bush 41, Republican
Desert Sheild/Storm - Bush 41, Republican
Somalia - Bush 41, Republican & Clinton, Democrat
Bosnia, Kosovo, etc. - Clinton, Democrat
Afganstan - Bush 43, Republican
Iraq - Bush 43, Republican

Even those who ran on keeping us out of war, still got us involved in military actions, not because we wanted it.

The Republicans are moving to the left...
You've hit it in one. The Republican Party long ago started shifting to the left. The first President Bush started it a long time ago, abandoning many of the principles that made the "Party of Regan" the Party of Regan. You are also quite right to mention the shifts in policy overseas, although I think this has more to do with the international nature of the War on Terror than a general leftward shift.

The big problem here is that people do not respond to the new left-wing Republicans. Poll after poll shows the President's "compassionate conservatism" has done nothing for the Republicans but alienate the base and make them look like they are just Diet Democrats (i.e. they follow the same domestic policies but pursue slightly different policies on foriegn policy.)

The only two things keeping Republicans alive are Christianity and the war. Once the war ends, I think there will be some relatively large shifts in the Republican Party. Republicans acting as if they are Diet Democrats will never attract welfare recipients, or compassion voters (voters who use the money of others to spread compassion around.) The left-wing of the Republican Party is, in my view from the tip of the right-wing, an unwelcome, losing group.

The Democrats, meanwhile, keep moving to the left in to territory they have entered before, with disastrous results. A prime example is the anti-war movement and socialized medicine. Both McGovern and Hillarycare failed. Those who differ from the anti-war line, like Liberman, are burned at the stake.

I see a third party, formed of moderates from both parties, starting to coalesce. Liebermans, McCains, Grahams, Snowes and more will probably all defect at the first opportunity to any "moderate" third party.

Let the heretics burn... Republican and Democrat alike.
To re-hash an old argument, Conservative Republicans win office. Ronald Reagan won the two biggest electoral landslides since WWII. Barry Goldwater was a star back in his day, despite the fact that the party was not quite split enough to allow him to win.

If the purging continues on the Republican side, maybe enough of our current leadership will stand up and start pursuing conservative goals rather than leaping and bounding towards socialism and an America so weak it cannot even defend its own border, let alone its interests abroad.

Lefties lose. Just look at Bill Clinton. How did he win? He moved to the right. Triangulation was no fancy strategy, it was just an attempt to move the party to the right. McGovern was a disaster. Carter was a disaster. Mondale was a disaster. Dukakis was a disaster. Lefties lose, pure and simple. The more heretics they burn, the more extreme they look, and the closer Republicans come to catching the RINO/DINO votes.

Not True
LG gets great consolation from sitting on his bed at night, and clipping coupons for catfood.

As smart as we all seem to be, seems to me that we could work out a way to find out the truth of these matters.

John Taylor Gato mentioned something in an aside in one of his speeches once that really caught my attention. He said that the original thirteen colonies, and the communities within them, could and would make their own versions of local law. You want to discriminate against Catholics? There were communities that did so, and you could move there and discriminate to your hearts content. Those who didn’t want to either moved or kept their mouths shut. What worked caused communities to flourish, what didn’t would cause them to die.

I always admired that idea. The ten year ban on assault rifles would be a case in point. It didn’t really work, so it was rescinded. I get the feeling that reasonable approaches are not in the interests of some people. There is always a reason that their pet idea doesn’t work, and it is never the fault of the idea itself.

I have changed my mind about the war in Iraq. This is because I came to know about Just War Theory, and its effect on our war fighting capabilities. Had I known about it before we started the war, I would have supported some other measure – like starting a war within Iraq between factions. We should be fighting for OUR interests, not the altruistic nebulous interests of other cultures or peoples.

Schwarz was a Liberal on every issue
If you look at his voting record it is difficult to distinguish him from Nancy Pelosi. Only his rhetoric was less inflamitory.

What is the purpose of politics?
If the purpose is to elect Republican's period. Than it makes sense that squabling over who is more ideologically pure makes no sense. It is quite natural that those in leadership positions would favor a position that any Republican is a good Republican. After all, their power, and in many cases, their incomes are dependant upon whether or not their party is in the majority.

If the purpose of politics is to get an agenda passed, then it matters very much how a politician votes once they get to Washington. After all, what's the purpose of supporting them, if they vote against you once seated?

I'm not that concerned with the letter after a politicians name. If he/she supports my agenda, I support them. If they oppose it, I oppose them.

The tricky part comes in deciding who to support in a primary. Do I support the candidate who I agree with 50%, but has a good chance of beating in the general election, the candidate who I agree with 20%. Or do I support the candidate I agree with 80% of the time who might have a tougher time in the general.

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