Joe’s big problem

I sometimes get e-mails from conspiracy theorists about 9/11. These people always claim that the attacks were actually carried out by the U.S. government to create a pretext for the Iraq war.

I also get e-mails from people who encourage the American public to believe something just as crazy: that Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the 9/11 attacks.

There’s a subtle distinction between the former and the latter correspondents. I’m pretty sure the former e-mails come from pathetic lunatics living in basements, who post their rants on Web sites that get 10 hits per day. I’m completely sure who sends me the latter messages: the White House Office of Communications.

All of which leads me to ask several of my fellow liberal op-ed columnists the following question: Remember when Sen. John McCain gave those speeches in which he accused the Bush administration of carrying out the 9/11 attacks? I’m sure you recall how much that upset Republican voters, especially in McCain’s own state of Arizona.

And I bet you haven’t forgotten how Charles Krauthammer and David Brooks and Victor David Hanson all rallied to McCain’s defense, arguing there had to be room for diverse opinions in the Republican Party, and that by backing McCain’s opponent in Arizona’s Republican senatorial primary GOP activists were demanding a dangerous ideological purity from their candidates.

None of this rings a bell? That’s not surprising, because it’s inconceivable anything like this could ever happen. Indeed, such a hypothetical is beyond absurd. Yet we live in such peculiar times that something rather similar is happening among Democrats. Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman has upset a lot of Democrats, especially in his home state, for several reasons. The biggest complaint isn’t that Lieberman continues to support the Iraq war. After all, he is merely one of several prominent Democrats who do.

It isn’t even that he wholeheartedly endorses President Bush’s conduct of the war, although he does. It’s that Lieberman goes out of his way to repeat the most outrageous Republican propaganda on this issue, over and over again.

Consider what he said just last week: “The situation in Iraq is a lot better than it was a year ago.” The Iraqis “are on the way to building a free and independent Iraq. Two-thirds of their military is now ready, on their own, to lead the fight with some logistical backing from the U.S. or stand up on their own totally. That’s progress. And the question is, are we going to abandon them when they are making that progress?”

This might as well be a press release from the Ministry of Truth. Indeed, it’s substantively identical to the “This Week in Iraq” e-mails I get from the White House. I’m sure my fellow liberal pundits get the same e-mails, and are similarly appalled by the willingness of the administration to continue to spout transparent nonsense in the service of a bankrupt policy. (Someone who claims “the situation in Iraq is a lot better than it was a year ago” deserves precisely as much respect as someone who claims Bush carried out the 9/11 attacks).

So why are some liberals sticking up for Lieberman? The Bush administration sold the Iraq war on a phony premise. It worked hard to convince Americans that Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11. And it succeeded _ more than half the public believed this by the fall of 2002. After utterly botching the occupation and causing incalculable damage to America, Bush’s “plan” consists of continuing to pretend the whole thing isn’t a catastrophe until the day he dumps it in his successor’s lap. And Joe Lieberman has been one of the president’s biggest cheerleaders, every bloody step of the way.

Yet according to various liberal commentators, supporting Lieberman’s opponent in a Senate primary is somehow wrong. Have these people lost their minds?

(Paul C. Campos is a law professor at the University of Colorado and can be reached at Paul.Campos(at)