The narrative is simple and concise. Lieberman’s Iraq policy during the campaign advocated increased embedding as a means of withdrawing troops, and stated that increased embedding should be achieved by redeploying troops already in Iraq, not sending more troops to the region. Less than one month after the election Lieberman had contradicted each of these positions, calling for more troops in the region and arguing that such troops were needed in order to expand the embedding strategy.
These are specific repudiations by Lieberman of the central tenets of his military policy in Iraq; a complete about-face by a politician within literally days of the election on an issue so significant that it dominated the elections as no issue has since the Watergate/Nixon pardon issue in the 1974 mid-terms. In sum, immediately after the election Lieberman proceeded to urge precisely what he had told Connecticut voters he opposed – sending more troops to Iraq – and thereby misled the voters on the single issue that was most important to the greatest number of voters in Connecticut.
And he appears to have done so with impunity. By early January, after formally calling on Bush to send more troops to the region, Lieberman was confident enough that his u-turn had escaped notice that he told the Stamford Advocate: "I didn't change my position, and I'm grateful I was able to win the election with broad 'tri-partisan' support. There should not be any shock about the position I'm taking now." The mind reels at the effrontery of Lieberman’s claim.
The simplicity and concision of this narrative, traits generally conducive to mass media dissemination, may have actually worked against more widespread reporting of Lieberman’s deceit. It is so simple, concise and completely irreconcilable with the dominant Lieberman narrative that the media would have to revise the prevailing narrative, which states that Lieberman is a uniquely civilized, principled and gracious figure in contemporary politics. And, as any astute observer of the media would agree, the narrative, once established, acquires both a certain critical mass and momentum in political reporting in the corporate media, moving forward regardless of the authenticity of the narrative, developing a lateral moraine of facts and information consistent with the narrative and leaving behind anything contradictory or inconsistent. And so John McCain can retain a reputation of a maverick and straight-talker even as he becomes an increasingly doctrinaire conservative in his efforts to nail down the GOP nomination for president, with predictable adverse consequences for “straight talk” as a result of McCain’s serial repudiations of prior positions. Similarly, Lieberman appears to be retaining his “eagle scout” reputation even as evidence of vengeful, petty, coarse and deceitful behavior has mounted.
To date, the story of Lieberman’s deception of Connecticut voters on the Iraq issue has proved no match for the prevailing Lieberman narrative, one which Lieberman has assiduously nurtured for thirty years. He has much invested in it; indeed it is his principal political asset. An effective politician will leverage his popular narrative, as Nixon did his reputation for staunch anti-communism. Almost any other politician would have been crucified by the right wing for bending toward Red China, but the man who nailed Alger Hiss and waved his finger in Khrushchev’s face in the Kitchen debate had the anti-communist capital to deflect a charge of being “soft on communism.” In the same way, Lieberman exploited his popular image to engage in very aggressive campaign tactics that would have branded any other politician as thuggish.
Just as only Nixon could go to China, perhaps only Lieberman could call his opponent a liar during a statewide televised debate and retain a reputation for civility. Perhaps only Lieberman could accost his opponent after a debate, calling him a “goddamn sonofabitch” in tones audible to others on the stage, and yet still retain a reputation for graciousness. Perhaps only Lieberman could spread nearly $400,000 in cash around urban areas in Connecticut in a period of days before the August democratic primary and still retain a reputation as a clean, ethical politician. And perhaps only Lieberman could tell his constituents that increased embedding would expedite withdrawal and would not require more troops in Iraq, and then say exactly the opposite almost immediately after the election and still retain a reputation for honesty and forthrightness.
Here is the true testament to how robust the dominant Lieberman narrative is, how completely impervious to contradiction: Lieberman repudiated his campaign positions on Iraq so definitively, with such alacrity, that there was an “in your face” quality about it, and yet the mass media is still perfectly oblivious to the story. Lieberman could have very easily been more patient and cirumspect, waiting until after his return from Iraq in December and then proclaiming that “changes on the ground” in Iraq had forced him to reconsider his opposition to increased troop levels. But for some reason he did not. He admitted to reconsidering his position just five days after the election on Meet The Press, argued in favor of more troops in Iraq to a skeptical Gen. Abizaid just eight days after the election, and less than one month after the election issued a complete repudiation of Point Six of his “ten point plan” while appearing on Face The Nation. He would not leave for Iraq until eleven days after his appearance on Face The Nation.
I will proceed from the safe assumption that Joe Lieberman is not a careless man. One can fault Lieberman for not taking better care to hide the political calculation in his actions, but there is calculation nonetheless; little is left to chance. And so it is implausible that Lieberman could have inadvertently, though haste and carelessness, left himself defenseless against the charge that he deceived Connecticut voters. And yet his decision to begin advocating increased troop levels in Iraq on Nov. 15, 2006 even in the face of Abizaid’s opposition deprived Lieberman of any credible argument that changed conditions in Iraq had forced him to drastically revise the opposition to increased troop levels contained in his ten point plan. Similarly, there was no need for Lieberman to flatly reverse his long-held belief that increased embedding would permit a drawdown of troop levels. He could have attributed his decision to support increased troop levels to any number of factors present in Iraq, and yet in the weeks following the election he repeatedly insisted that more troops were needed in Iraq in order to facilitate greater embedding of U.S. soldiers in Iraqi military units. It is inconceivable that Lieberman could have done so without realizing that he was contradicting the argument in his ten point plan that increased embedding should be achieved by redeploying troops already in Iraq, not sending more.
Yes, there was an unmistakable “in your face” quality to the glee with which Lieberman embraced the contradictions and inconsistencies inherent in his call for sending more troops to Iraq. It was as if Lieberman were saying to the effete and presumptuous dilettante and the uncouth cyber-rabble who had dared to challenge him, “I beat you, you are nothing, and I’ll do as I please and rub your face in it.” It doesn’t fit well with the Gracious Joe Lieberman narrative, but from a certain perspective you can almost understand Lieberman’s need to be such a sore winner. His pathetic performance in the 2004 presidential primaries had embarrassed him, the criticism of his performance during the 2000 campaign as Al Gore’s running mate had angered him, and his unwavering support of Bush’s Iraq policy had largely isolated him in his own party, but he was still Joe Lieberman, holder of one of the safest seats in the Senate. At the beginning of 2006 he had every reason to believe that he would be returned to the Senate with more than 60% of the vote, as he had in 1994 and 2000. There was no question that his support for an unpopular war would cost him some votes, but the republicans were in such absolute disarray in Connecticut that Lieberman could again expect to win overwhelmingly. And yet within a vertiginous six months he was battling for his political life, beset by some political neophyte with more money than sense and his foul-mouthed, radical internet hordes. The indignity, the utter humiliation of his primary defeat, was shattering. The general election victory must have been correspondingly sweet, and so one could forgive Lieberman a spasm of triumphalism, even if tinged with a touch of arrogance.
What cannot be countenanced, however, is the cruel hoax Lieberman played on the voters in Connecticut. Whether one had voted for Lieberman in reliance on his assurances that he supported withdrawal and opposed escalation, or whether one had seen through the charade, Lieberman had looked you in the eye and said “we will embed more Americans in Iraqi units, by redeploying troops already in Iraq rather than sending more troops, and because embedding is a force multiplier it will permit us to bring troops home.” And then he turned around in a matter of weeks after the election and advocated the opposite.
The corporate media can’t see past the narrative, and no one is offering them a counter-narrative on Lieberman. Unfortunately, the left wing in this country is really only catching on to the whole game of constructing “frames” and narratives. The right wing has been doing it for years and with great success. Consider, if you will, that the right wing was able to create a popular narrative around Al Gore that labeled him as untrustworthy, self-aggrandizing and deceitful all on the basis of something he never said: “I invented the internet.” On the other end of the spectrum, Lieberman’s egregious deception in Connecticut, on the greatest issue of our time, in the most closely watched race in the country, has been completely ignored by the mass media, primarily because there has been an absence of any serious attempt on the left to offer the media a counter-narrative on Lieberman.
Even the left wing blogosphere has tended to unintentionally diminish the magnitude of Lieberman’s deception. Virtually every criticism of Lieberman’s hurried post-election embrace of escalation has focused on statements made by Lieberman during the campaign that were merely precatory – “no one wants to bring the troops home more than I do”, and his mid-summer prediction that the U.S. could start withdrawing troops from Iraq by the end of 2006 - statements that indict Lieberman as a poor prognosticator and a run-of-the mill political trimmer, not a liar. But it was Lieberman’s own formal statement of Iraq policy – the ten point plan he ballyhooed at the debates as a plan to bring the troops home – that is the most damning evidence that Lieberman intended to deceive the voters of Connecticut on the most significant issue this country has faced since Vietnam and the most significant issue of Lieberman’s career.
His ten point plan cannot be reconciled with his post-election support for sending more troops to Iraq, and the chasm between his pre-election policy and his post-election actions cannot be bridged. Most remarkably, it was Lieberman himself who burned these bridges, who appeared to consciously foreclose any argument that his support during the campaign for withdrawing troops, and his opposition to sending more to Iraq, was anything other than a shameful deception of his constituents.