For several years now, liberal eggheads have been having what seems like an important debate: Do they need "big ideas" like the conservative movement had during its long march to power? Serious-minded liberals launched what Democratic idea-broker Kenneth S. Baer calls "the battle of the battle of ideas," in which they argue about whether it's time to argue about important arguments.
Just this week, Baer and Andrei Cherny - founders of a new big-idea journal, "Democracy" - penned an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times calling for liberals to find new Big Ideas. In response to this effort, the New Republic's Jonathan Chait says - and I'm not making this up - "Ideas? Feh."
A more eloquent statement was posted on the liberal blog TPM Cafe: "The problem isn't getting people to believe in something - people can believe in anything. The problem is getting them to care." That captures the essence of liberalism's current plight. If it's not about emotions - caring, hating, feeling - it's about tactics. Big ideas have about as much animating force in liberal ranks today as Calvinism does at a porn studio.
Exhibit A is the liberal battle over Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman's re-election. Lieberman, America's favorite Jewish uncle, is in the fight of his political life because limousine liberal Ned Lamont is challenging him in the Democratic primary. Oceans of ink and pixels have been devoted to explaining the factions behind this "civil war" on the left. Some paint it as the "netroots," or left-wing bloggers, versus the Washington establishment. Others talk of hawks vs. doves, or populists vs. elitists, the party line vs. independents, cats vs. dogs. ...
Alas, Chait has it right: "Feh."
For good or ill, there are no grand "big ideas" behind the anti-Lieberman cause. It's driven by a riot of passions, chiefly against President Bush and "his" war. Any ideas are mere afterthoughts and rationalizations used to gussy up animus as principle. Several Lamont supporters, also known as "Nedheads," have faulted Lieberman for such obscure transgressions as criticizing former President Bill Clinton's behavior in the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Please. There was no lack of enthusiasm for Lieberman when the sainted Al Gore picked Joe as his running mate.