Did the Far Left Blogs Turn Lieberman Into a Republican?

That's the take in this recent profile at New York magazine. The far left blogosphere first stung Lieberman when his 2004 bid for the Democratic presidential nomination fell flat but then really turned him towards the GOP following his 2006 Senate primary race. In Lieberman's view, powerful bloggers have hijacked his party, especially on foreign policy. From the article:

The 2004 debacle was Lieberman's first introduction to a new force, the netroots, a loose collection of leftist blogs including MoveOn.org and DailyKos. The way the senator sees it, those groups have been "taking the party in a direction that's bad for America: take-no-prisoners, partisan attack politics." Their influence, he says, has made the Democrats "litmus-testy" and "reflexively antiwar."

But Lieberman hadn't felt the full wrath of the blogs until his 2006 reelection bid. Online activists, including the coalition Trippi had built for Dean, were united behind Ned Lamont, a young businessman with no national-office experience but a vocal antiwar stance. To Lieberman, the blogs' power in online fund-raising and event organizing--and the vitriol used to fuel it all--came as a shock. (The senator's own Website, by contrast, crashed on the eve of the primary; his campaign blamed it on Lamont hackers until an FBI probe concluded that shoddy programming was the culprit.) On August 8, 2006, Lamont won the primary with 52 percent of the vote. "For the sake of our state, our country, and my party," proclaimed Lieberman, "I cannot and will not let that result stand." The inclusion of "party" in that sentence was jaw-dropping...

...The real reason he's backing McCain, Lieberman says, is because he believes in the kind of foreign policy that the Democrats don't provide anymore: unflinching on Iraq, Iran, and Russia, and unfailingly loyal to Israel (he invokes Nixon's line about "loading every plane" with weapons for Israel to explain what kind of president McCain will be). Lieberman believes foreign policy is the defining issue of the day, and sees Obama's nomination as the regrettable result of a knee-jerk, blog-fueled peacenik mentality among the Democrats. "Last year, at the DailyKos convention, just about all of the candidates came, and the Democratic Leadership Council held a convention and none came," he says. In July, following an online outcry, Lieberman notes, Obama called a second press conference in one day to clarify his position on Iraq troop withdrawal.

Lieberman sees this zigzag as evidence that Obama takes his marching orders from the blogs. "In 2007," he tells me, "netroots and MoveOn.org controlled the agenda--they endorsed Obama like they endorsed Ned Lamont, and did to Hillary what they did to me in 2006." Lieberman, who often brings up Lamont without provocation, seems to view the McCain-Obama matchup as his battle with Lamont writ large on the national canvas: a voice-of-reason maverick beholden to no one but his conscience pitted against a cocky line-cutter with no experience. "The lesson Joe learned about the netroots," says a onetime colleague, "is now the frame he will put around any situation, even when it doesn't apply." An even less charitable view of Lieberman's embrace of McCain holds that it's all about payback for the way the Democrats treated him in the '04 election and in Connecticut. "If you're a nail, the whole world looks like a hammer," says the same ex-colleague. "He was hurt, and to an extent, he is still working through it."


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Homo sapiens have been on earth for 200,000 years — give or take a few ten-thousand-year stretches. Much of that time is shrouded in the fog of prehistory. What we do know has been pieced together by deciphering the fossil record through the principles of evolutionary theory. Yet new discoveries contain the potential to refashion that knowledge and lead scientists to new, previously unconsidered conclusions.

A set of 8-million-year-old teeth may have done just that. Researchers recently inspected the upper and lower jaw of an ancient European ape. Their conclusions suggest that humanity's forebearers may have arisen in Europe before migrating to Africa, potentially upending a scientific consensus that has stood since Darwin's day.

Rethinking humanity's origin story

The frontispiece of Thomas Huxley's Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature (1863) sketched by natural history artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

As reported in New Scientist, the 8- to 9-million-year-old hominin jaw bones were found at Nikiti, northern Greece, in the '90s. Scientists originally pegged the chompers as belonging to a member of Ouranopithecus, an genus of extinct Eurasian ape.

David Begun, an anthropologist at the University of Toronto, and his team recently reexamined the jaw bones. They argue that the original identification was incorrect. Based on the fossil's hominin-like canines and premolar roots, they identify that the ape belongs to a previously unknown proto-hominin.

The researchers hypothesize that these proto-hominins were the evolutionary ancestors of another European great ape Graecopithecus, which the same team tentatively identified as an early hominin in 2017. Graecopithecus lived in south-east Europe 7.2 million years ago. If the premise is correct, these hominins would have migrated to Africa 7 million years ago, after undergoing much of their evolutionary development in Europe.

Begun points out that south-east Europe was once occupied by the ancestors of animals like the giraffe and rhino, too. "It's widely agreed that this was the found fauna of most of what we see in Africa today," he told New Scientists. "If the antelopes and giraffes could get into Africa 7 million years ago, why not the apes?"

He recently outlined this idea at a conference of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists.

It's worth noting that Begun has made similar hypotheses before. Writing for the Journal of Human Evolution in 2002, Begun and Elmar Heizmann of the Natural history Museum of Stuttgart discussed a great ape fossil found in Germany that they argued could be the ancestor (broadly speaking) of all living great apes and humans.

"Found in Germany 20 years ago, this specimen is about 16.5 million years old, some 1.5 million years older than similar species from East Africa," Begun said in a statement then. "It suggests that the great ape and human lineage first appeared in Eurasia and not Africa."

Migrating out of Africa

In the Descent of Man, Charles Darwin proposed that hominins descended out of Africa. Considering the relatively few fossils available at the time, it is a testament to Darwin's astuteness that his hypothesis remains the leading theory.

Since Darwin's time, we have unearthed many more fossils and discovered new evidence in genetics. As such, our African-origin story has undergone many updates and revisions since 1871. Today, it has splintered into two theories: the "out of Africa" theory and the "multi-regional" theory.

The out of Africa theory suggests that the cradle of all humanity was Africa. Homo sapiens evolved exclusively and recently on that continent. At some point in prehistory, our ancestors migrated from Africa to Eurasia and replaced other subspecies of the genus Homo, such as Neanderthals. This is the dominant theory among scientists, and current evidence seems to support it best — though, say that in some circles and be prepared for a late-night debate that goes well past last call.

The multi-regional theory suggests that humans evolved in parallel across various regions. According to this model, the hominins Homo erectus left Africa to settle across Eurasia and (maybe) Australia. These disparate populations eventually evolved into modern humans thanks to a helping dollop of gene flow.

Of course, there are the broad strokes of very nuanced models, and we're leaving a lot of discussion out. There is, for example, a debate as to whether African Homo erectus fossils should be considered alongside Asian ones or should be labeled as a different subspecies, Homo ergaster.

Proponents of the out-of-Africa model aren't sure whether non-African humans descended from a single migration out of Africa or at least two major waves of migration followed by a lot of interbreeding.

Did we head east or south of Eden?

Not all anthropologists agree with Begun and his team's conclusions. As noted by New Scientist, it is possible that the Nikiti ape is not related to hominins at all. It may have evolved similar features independently, developing teeth to eat similar foods or chew in a similar manner as early hominins.

Ultimately, Nikiti ape alone doesn't offer enough evidence to upend the out of Africa model, which is supported by a more robust fossil record and DNA evidence. But additional evidence may be uncovered to lend further credence to Begun's hypothesis or lead us to yet unconsidered ideas about humanity's evolution.