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Who's Guilty of 'Petty Partisanship'?

By E. J. Dionne Jr.
Friday, August 11, 2006

Oh my goodness, as Don Rumsfeld might say. Support for the Iraq war hits a record low, and all the president's hit men decide that it's time to smear their opponents as defeatists who give aid and comfort to the enemy.

Of course they didn't mention the poll on Iraq released by CNN on Wednesday. As a basis for their guilt-by-association campaign, they used the fact that Democratic voters in Tuesday's Connecticut primary favored antiwar businessman Ned Lamont over Sen. Joe Lieberman.

The gentlemen who have gotten us into a mess in Iraq prefer not to explain how they'll fix things. They would rather use national security for partisan purposes, and they were all out there on Wednesday, spewing incendiary talking points. Hey, they may not have sent enough troops to win a war, but they sure know how to win midterm elections.

In a telephone call with journalists, Vice President Cheney came close to suggesting that there is a new political blog out there called "al-Qaeda for Ned." His words have not received nearly the attention they deserve.

Mourning the fact that Democrats would "purge a man like Joe Lieberman" -- that word "purge" has a nice Stalinist ring, doesn't it? -- our vice president went on to say this:

"The thing that's partly disturbing about it is the fact that, [from] the standpoint of our adversaries, if you will, in this conflict, and the al-Qaeda types, they clearly are betting on the proposition that ultimately they can break the will of the American people in terms of our ability to stay in the fight and complete the task."

The rejection of Lieberman made Cheney wonder if "the dominant view of the Democratic Party" is "the basic, fundamental notion that somehow we can retreat behind our oceans and not be actively engaged in this conflict and be safe here at home."

Wow! I bet the 145,000 free citizens of Connecticut who voted for Lamont will be shocked to learn that they were really sending signals of "retreat" to "al-Qaeda types."

Then there was Ken Mehlman, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, handpicked by President Bush and Karl Rove.

Speaking in Cleveland, Mehlman couldn't resist starting with a little old-fashioned redbaiting. He explained Ronald Reagan's defection from the Democratic Party this way: "He saw the beginning of the end, as a party that had vowed to fight communism became a party that set itself against those who fought communism." Ah, yes, the party of Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale was nothing but a bunch of anti-anti-communists.

From there it was an easy leap to saying a Democratic Party -- cleverly renamed the "Defeat-ocrat Party" by the RNC chairman -- "that once stood for strength now stands for retreat and defeat." Translation: Anyone who dares question our botched approach is in favor of surrender.

Finally, from Tony Snow, the White House official who speaks for the president, came this analysis of the Connecticut result: "It's a defining moment for the Democratic Party, whose national leaders now have made it clear that if you disagree with the extreme left in their party they're going to come after you."

This statement is rooted in a lie -- or, to be polite, fiction. As Adam Nagourney noted in the New York Times yesterday: "In fact, the vast majority of Democratic Party leaders supported Mr. Lieberman in the primary and did not endorse Mr. Lamont until after the results were in." On Time.com, Perry Bacon Jr. noted that Lieberman had the support of "almost the entire Democratic establishment."

And if being against the Iraq war makes you "extreme left," then the administration has succeeded in pushing 60 percent of Americans into that camp. That's the proportion opposed to the war in the new CNN poll.

When he announced he was running as an independent, Lieberman issued a ringing condemnation of "petty partisanship and angry vitriol." He denounced those who offered "insults instead of ideas" and said the purpose of politics is "to lift up, not to tear down." True, and there could hardly be any more offensive examples of petty partisanship than the vitriolic screeds issued by Cheney, Mehlman and Snow -- coming, as they did, just a day before we learned of a new terrorist plot against us.

We'll never achieve authentic bipartisanship until a crowd that has clung to power by dividing us into bitter camps gets the rebuke it deserves. In the meantime, Lieberman might usefully send a copy of his speech to his friends in the White House. They divide us at our peril.

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