It was only eight years
ago that Joe Lieberman was the toast of the Democratic Party. As Al
Gore's running mate during the 2000 presidential election, nary
a bad word could be said about the Connecticut senator. Few questioned
his Democratic credentials. Few questioned his fidelity to the
Democratic Party. Though open minded on some issues, he was a
Oh, how times have changed.
"There's hardly any sense in which [Joe] Lieberman is an independent figure," writes Jonathan Chait in a recent article in The New Republic magazine. "He's become a cog in the Republican message machine."
The article's subtitle was "The Zell Millerization of Joe Lieberman.
Time Magazine's Joe Klein has too seized upon the Zell Miller analogy, headlining a May anti-Lieberman screed on Time Magazine's Swampland blog "Zell Lieberman."
Attacking Lieberman in a May Salon.com article, Joe Conason
called Lieberman "a turncoat surrogate for McCain" and attributed his
endorsement of McCain for president as a gambit "for appointment as a
token Democrat in a Republican Cabinet, or even a second nomination as
vice president, on the Republican ticket."
Lieberman has not been a
popular figure in Democratic politics recently, mainly emanating from
his staunch and continued support of the Iraq War. Because
of this, Lieberman was all but ignored when he ran for the Democratic
presidential nomination in 2004. He faced a primary challenge from the
left when he stood for re-election to the Senate in 2006. Though
Lieberman lost in the primary, he soundly won the general election
running as an Independent. Lieberman continued to caucus with the
Democrats in the Senate despite labeling himself an "Independent
Liberals are now
further enraged with Lieberman because he has decided to support John
McCain for president over their party's nominee, Barack Obama. While
Lieberman's voting record is solidly to the left-of-center, he has made
his decision to support the Republican nominee with the belief that the
threat of Radical Islam is great and that John McCain is the best man
to deal with the challenges that the war against it entails.
Not surprisingly, as
the general election campaign gets under way, many liberals are uniting
to attack Lieberman. One common refrain, as we saw above, is that
Lieberman is nothing more than the Zell Miller of 2008. Miller, a
former Democratic senator, supported George W. Bush in 2004 claiming
that the Democratic Party had moved too far to the left.
But when you analyze
both Miller's and Lieberman's voting records, you come to understand
why the Lieberman/Miller analogy is so preposterous. Joe Lieberman
actually votes like a Democrat. Except on a few issues, Lieberman votes
the party line. An analysis of his recent voting record shows that he
and the Democratic Party are in sync more than 80 percent of the time.
Over Zell Miller's entire Senate career, from 2000 to 2005, Miller
voted with Republicans nearly 80 percent of the time on issues where
the two parties had different positions. In other words, Zell Miller
was really a Republican in all but name when he supported George W.
Bush in 2004. Joe Lieberman is a true blue Democrat who has decided to
support John McCain.
The other defamatory
charge against Lieberman, expressed most vividly by Joe Conason, is
that he is supporting McCain for opportunistic reasons. According to
this theory, Lieberman sees his support for McCain as a way to ensure a
cabinet post in a McCain administration or even another shot at the
This, of course,
doesn't pass the laugh test. When Lieberman endorsed McCain way back in
mid-December 2007 – before a single Republican primary had taken place
– McCain was just at the very beginning of his Phoenix-like rise to win
the Republican nomination. A week before the endorsement, a New York Times/CBS
News poll showed the Arizona senator garnering just 7 percent support
nationally, tied with Fred Thompson and trailing Rudy Giuliani, Mike
Huckabee and Mitt Romney.
Moreover, McCain must
be seen as the underdog in the general election with the Republican
brand tarnished among many voters. If Lieberman was so opportunistic,
why would he back the horse with the longer odds?
Just the opposite of
being opportunistic, Lieberman's decision to support McCain comes with
great risk. If Barack Obama wins the presidency, Joe Lieberman will
find himself not in a McCain cabinet but back in a Senate controlled by
Democrats. They will view Lieberman's support for McCain with disdain
and his likely keynote address at the Republican National Convention as
an act of great disloyalty.
While Democrats in the
Senate have placated Lieberman since his 2006 re-election so he would
caucus with them and thus allow them to maintain their one-seat
majority, no such placating will be necessary in January 2009 when the
Democrats are likely to control the Senate by a comfortable margin. And
if that occurs, their supposedly "opportunistic" friend Joe Lieberman
will likely be replaced as chairman of the Senate Homeland Security
Committee. "Opportunistic" Joe will be a man without a home with little
power to influence anything.
Despite attempts to
defame him, Joe Lieberman is no turncoat or opportunist. He is a
statesman who has made a politically risky decision that he believes is
in the best interest of the country. He is a profile in political