McLieberman and Conservatives

Reihan calls this Stuart Rothenberg argument for a McCain-Lieberman ticket "exactly right":

But wouldn’t social conservatives, in particular, go bananas, since Lieberman is moderate or liberal on most issues other than Iraq? He supports abortion rights, generally votes with organized labor and is an unapologetic environmentalist. Conservatives would revolt, wouldn’t they?

Probably not. While there would be the usual fist-pounding from some “movement conservatives,” their anger at the selection would quickly dissipate when they saw the fury unleashed by liberals and Democratic bloggers.

I call it hogwash. You'll recall that a similar "he has all the right (i.e. left) enemies" argument was advanced concerning the scads of social conservatives who were supposedly rallying around Rudy Giuliani - not only would 9/11 and the war trump abortion and gay rights for many values voters, the theory ran, but the mutual disadmiration between Rudy and the cultural left would make him a natural ally for the social right. I found it mildly convincing myself, based on Rudy's early poll numbers. And look how that turned out.

Now obviously asking conservatives to vote for a rightward-migrating liberal hawk for vice-president - especially one who's always talked a somewhat religiose and socially-conservative talk, and who presumably would be up for a road-to-Minneapolis conversion on various issues - is different from asking social conservatives to vote for an unapologetic social liberal for president. (Joe Lieberman also doesn't come with Rudy's, ah, colorful personal life.) And I'm sure that plenty of conservatives would talk themselves into voting for a ticket that included the "Independent Democrat" from the great state of Connecticut. But "plenty" doesn't mean "all," and I don't think that Rothenberg presents a particularly strong case that Lieberman would gain enough independent votes for the GOP ticket to offset the damage picking him would do to McCain's relationship with the right-wing base. (And not only the base: There are plenty of pro-life independents out there, and if I may rely on anecdotal evidence for a moment, I think a lot of them are itching for an excuse to turn the GOP out of office on war-related grounds.) All Lieberman adds, so far as I can tell, is a patina of bipartisanship, which would be useful in a race against Barack Obama but not useful enough to make up for the fact that on an issue-by-issue basis, a McCain-Lieberman ticket would have all the weaknesses of an bipartisan marriage of convenience and almost none of the strengths.

The only imaginable world in which McLieberman makes sense, I think, is the political world that we would be living in if events had turned out differently (that is, vastly better) in Iraq. As I wrote a few months ago, during the Giuliani bubble:

In the period between 9/11 and the decline of the U.S. fortunes in Iraq, it was possible to imagine a scenario in which a successfully-prosecuted war on terror became a realigning issue, delivering the GOP a 60 percent majority and branding the Democratic Party as the peace party (and not in a good way) for a generation. All sorts of things might have followed under this scenario, but one possibility is suggested by the Brooks-Kristol notion of a McCain-Lieberman ticket. That pairing little sense now, I think, but in the context of a successful Iraq invasion – followed by cries of “on to Tehran” and “on to Damascus” – it isn’t so outlandish to imagine a GOP that absorbed a lot of Lieberman-style socially-liberal, fiscally-moderate hawks (call it the Dennis Miller vote) and in the process became large enough to make the pro-life vote much less crucial to its fortunes. In the election of 2008, with democracy successfully extended to Iran and Syria, al Qaeda broken and Osama executed, and our rivals in Europe, Russia and China cowed, this McCain-Lieberman GOP might have sat athwart a new political center, with a weakened, much more left-wing Democratic Party to one side and perhaps a disgruntled right-wing rump to the other.

But this is not the world we live in, to put it mildly, and in the world we do inhabit, running a hawkish unity ticket on the GOP line in '08 makes almost no sense at all.