Monday, May 10, 2004
So now Senator Palpatine—I mean, Lieberman—speaks up on Abu Ghraib. From Friday’s hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee:
“Mr. Secretary, the behavior by Americans at the prison in Iraq is, as we all acknowledge, immoral, intolerable and un-American. It deserves the apology that you have given today and that have been given by others in high positions in our government and our military.
“I cannot help but say, however, that those who were responsible for killing 3,000 Americans on September 11th, 2001, never apologized. Those who have killed hundreds of Americans in uniform in Iraq working to liberate Iraq and protect our security have never apologized.
“And those who murdered and burned and humiliated four Americans in Fallujah a while ago never received an apology from anybody.”
Now, I won’t dwell on the utter fatuousness of this justification for the rape, torture, and murder of random Iraqis—every other sane person already has. In fact, even people who have infinitely more tolerance for Lieberman than I do have reeled in disgust at this one. On Friday Josh Marshall, for example, called it “Ugly, pandering, a display of the cheapest tendencies of the man.”
But Marshall also wrote, “For Mr. Responsibility and Morality, what a disappointment. He can take a lesson not only from John McCain but from Lindsey Graham too.”
And that’s what I’d like to discuss: even to call this latest performance a “disappointment” is to invest Senator Palpatine with a gravitas he has never deserved.
For Abu Ghraib presents us with a real moral crisis, and by “real” I mean “as opposed to the moral crisis posed by oral sex in the Oval Office.” (Which, by the way, was sleazy and colossally stupid, though not quite unconstitutional. For the record, I oppose oral sex in the Oval Office, and I promise to work to stop it whenever it occurs. But I mention this only because Lieberman’s denunciation of Clinton from the Senate floor is what got him a spot on the Gore ticket and a shot at national prominence in the first place.) To put this another way: this is the worst military and geopolitical scandal in a generation, and anyone who doesn’t realize it just isn’t worth taking seriously—about this or anything else.
Lieberman, for his part, has always struck me as a member of the religious right dressed up as a “New Democrat.” He’s very concerned about “moral” issues like violence in video games, and he’s sad that discussions of God and spirituality have been banished from the public sphere (to which I always reply, exactly what public sphere do you inhabit? As Richard Rorty once put it, an atheist can’t get elected to any office higher than that of dogcatcher in this country). And let’s not forget his important partnership with Lynne Cheney as co-director of the right-wing Association of College Trustees and Alumni and his consistent pattern of alignment with wingnut conservatives in the culture wars.
But now here comes a profound moral crisis that goes to the heart of American legitimacy, and Senator Palpatine here takes time out to tell us—he “cannot help but say”—that the atrocities at Abu Ghraib are offset by terrible things they’ve done since September 11 (where “they” means “A-rabs in general").
That’s it for Joe, folks. I propose that the man doesn’t have a shred of “moral” credibility left.
Now, some of you will doubtless say, “Michael, you’re being a bit hasty on this one—surely there will be more moral crises over the next twenty or thirty years, and we should wait to see how Lieberman responds to them, and maybe he’ll do better, and then we should take the average over his entire life.” But some of you would be wrong. Joe doesn’t get any more chances. He’s done. He’s used up his last vial of Joe-mentum. You need never take him seriously again, on any question whatsoever. The next time he gets up and drones on about the soul-corroding aspects of Grand Theft Auto III, you can say, yes, Joe, tell it to the prisoners of Abu Ghraib. Or if you want to get meta-ironic with him, you can say in a lugubrious baritone, with deeply furrowed brow, “Grand Theft Auto III contains deeply disturbing images of violence, yes, but I cannot help but say that those who were responsible for killing 3,000 Americans on September 11th, 2001, have never apologized for bringing their disturbing images of violence to our television screens.”
But first, let’s retire this man from public life. People of Connecticut, rise up—you have nothing to lose but your sanctimonious fraud.