When Andrew Sullivan, David Brooks and Bill Kristol latch onto an idea, you can be pretty confident that it will involve either calls for war or preachy self-importance. In the creation and transmission of the “McCain-Lieberman Party” meme, we get both, where the central figures of this new “party” are both pro-war (which war? name one!) and preachy, self-important men. But the “McCain-Lieberman Party” idea is not a new thing of the last few years. It is the same convergence of ”hawks” that America has seen over the last two decades during each conflict or international crisis. During the 1990s and especially during the Kosovo War we saw a similar convergence of opinion, represented best by The Weekly Standard and The New Republic as each tried to outdo the other in calling for more aggressive action in the Balkans. Indeed, “aggressive action” might as well be this group’s motto, since that seems to be the standard by which it judges all other foreign policy ideas lacking and according to which it deems a politician to be “responsible” or not. McCain-Lieberman serves as a handy substitute for this convergence, since McCain is the poster boy and hero of the Standard (he was their favoured primary candidate in 2000 over George “humble foreign policy” Bush) and Lieberman has become the personification of Democratic interventionism beloved of Marty Peretz and Peter Beinart at TNR. We might also call this the Hegemony-Democratism Party. If you like both of those ideas, you’ll love the McCain-Lieberman Party.
In its obsession with foreign policy this “party” bears all the hallmarks of crisis unity governments, such as those of Britain in WWI or Israel under Sharon during the second intifada. Because certain “gloomy hawks” believe that America in particular now must endure a situation similar to that of Israel, the parallel with an Israeli unity government may be the most instructive. For such alliances the crisis and foreign policy are dominant and perhaps even all-consuming–they are the alliance’s reason for being and, as such, there is an all too natural tendency on the part of alliances forged during crisis to want to exaggerate the scope of the crisis and imagine that the threat is far, far more dire than it may actually be. This not only suits the interests of the alliance itself, but also suits the priorities of the constituent members of the alliance who have made facing down foreign threats (real or imaginary) the fundamental litmus test of all “responsible” politics in their respective camps.
Because the ”party” conceives of the situation as an emergency, normal rules of dissent, the rule of law and representative government are no longer necessarily binding and must be bent to accommodate the crisis. One might also note that this “party” is an entirely elite party in its inspiration and membership, a party that dictates policy and ideology down to the lower orders, who depart from the script that is written for them at the peril of being declared by their masters unpatriotic, extremist or in some other way insane. As detached from their constituents as the two (real) major parties have become, as miserable as their record of serving their constituents’ best interests certainly is, they remain relatively popular parties based in real constituencies–even if those consituencies are routinely used simply to serve the interests of a few. The McCain-Lieberman Party is a “party” made up of ideological cadres whose influence and worth is based solely in their adherence to party doctrine, which is nothing other than support for projecting power and maximising hegemonic control in the world. The party of democratism does not need a lot of the rabble meddling in its plans. McCain-Lieberman is shorthand for, “We’re in charge, we always know better, so sit down and shut up.”
Like ancient satraps, the interventionists govern their respective provinces (conservatives on the one hand, progressives on the other) and make sure that they continue to pay tribute to the Shahanshah, War. But like any Shahanshah, this party’s master demands slavishness and servility from its subjects and rules by the whip and the knout. Free men and patriotic Americans do not prostrate themselves before this party’s master. If the “party” would make their devotion to War the thing that defines them and gives them meaning, let us consider them its subjects and servants and judge them accordingly.