There is something profoundly wrong when opposition to the war in Iraq seems to inspire greater passion than opposition to Islamist extremism....Some of this wrong-headed thinking about the world is happening because we're in a political climate where, for many people, when George Bush says 'yes,' their reflex reaction is to say 'no.' That is unacceptable.Unsurprisingly, this upset a number of liberals, including Jonathan Chait of The New Republic, who reacted to Leiberman's comments this way:
Lieberman is simply making a classic conservative error. Yes, most American liberals devote more energy to opposing domestic conservatism than to opposing foreign totalitarianism, even though the latter is vastly worse. Lieberman's mistake is in assuming that this is because liberals think Bush is worse than bin Laden. In fact, it's because our society aggrees that Islamist extremism is evil, but it doesn't agree that the Bush administration is very bad, so we spend most of our time debating the point of contention. Likewise, American conservatives spent more of their time complaining about American liberals than complaining about Islamist extremists. This doesn't mean they think Nancy Pelosi is worse than bin Laden.So the first thing that struck me reading this was: Is it indeed the case that most American conservatives spend more of their time opposing liberal domestic policy than supporting anti-Islamist foreign policy? Rather, it seems like some of the complaints that have been coming from the social conservative end of the spectrum lately are essentially that a certain portion of the conservative voting coalition are willing to accept significantly more liberal domestic polity so long as they are assured of a strong foreign policy.
No, I think Chait brushes this one off rather too easily. If I was to make a pair of broad generalizations (with the understanding that broad generalizations are invariably subject to notable specific contradictions) it would be that many in the broader conservative movement have become so fixated on the threat of Islamic extremism and terrorism that they have been willing to mostly let domestic issues slide, while movement progressives seem to be increasingly convinced that the conservative movement is different from Al Qaida only in degree, not in kind. (And perhaps even more worrying, since it's closer.)
This ignores, of course, whole sub sections of both ends of the political spectrum. There are strongly anti war (whether out of pacifism or isolationism) factions at the socially or economically conservative end of the spectrum. And there are a relatively tiny number of liberal hawks.
But speaking in broad brush terms, the degree of excitement that candidates who are "tough on terror" but liberal on a host of social, governmental and economic issues have managed to inspire on the conservative side seems to suggest a widely held feeling that the war on terror is the biggest priority. Meanwhile, the increasingly mainstream (and apparently sincere) use by liberal authors of terms like "Christofascist" to describe an increasingly wide swath conservative America seems to suggest that the blood fervor for a culture war on home ground is primarily found on the left right now.