Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Odor of Rats and Fish, Part I

I’ll say it: Joe Lieberman is a rat. Not a surprising view, I suppose, given my lefty leanings, but the reasons behind it are not the same as a lot of others wafting around on the airwaves these days. 

For starters, I have no problem with Lieberman being for the Iraq war, at least on the grounds of principle. There are plenty of people I respect, on both sides of the aisle, who once supported or continue to support that fiasco. I can respect those who disagree with me, even while savaging their position.

It’s also not about supporting John McCain. Again, it is possible to have a difference of opinion with your own party (or caucus, as it now stands with Joe), even about supposedly partisan things like the presidential election. It would be mighty hypocritical to accept, and laud, Republicans such as Colin Powell giving Barack Obama their endorsement while not allowing that some Dems might feel the same way about John McCain.

No, my problem with Joe isn’t about these issues, but rather that Joe has decided to take reaching across the aisle to a new level, not on principal, but rather for calculated personal opportunism.

Few are talking about the fact that in 2006, with the Iraq war, and rampant opposition to it, moving the electorate to punish Republicans, Joe Lieberman was in trouble in the CT primaries. Large portions of the party hierarchy, as well as primary voters, were inclined to punish Joe along with the Republicans. Joe was losing. Enter a young freshman senator named Barack Obama. Yes that Barack Obama. He campaigned for Joe, when a lot of other Democrats were all too happy to see him go down. Turns out that, despite the help, Joe lost anyway.

So, despite losing the primary, and despite his promise to respect the will of the people, Joe decided to run as an independent, stating that it was important for him to win, the better to “help elect a Democrat to the White House”. Of course, Joe took support from Republicans, including Karl Rove, and beat a (deliberately?) weak GOP candidate to keep his job.

It all seemed like a good DC compromise: Joe would caucus with the Dems, and support them on most domestic issues, but would continue to support the GOP on national security matters. Given that the Democrat majority was only 51-49 with Joe (with Cheney ready to be the 101st vote should Joe vote GOP), he was now quite powerful, and despite his snub at the primary process, he was given the chair of an important Homeland Security committee.

Flash ahead to the 2008 election. Joe decided to endorse his friend, and fellow hawk, John McCain, and even accepted an invitation to speak at the GOP convention. While this obviously caused some consternation, Joe promised that while he was following his principals (apparently forgetting the one about electing a Democrat as easily as the one about abiding by the primary votes), he would not “go negative” against his previous benefactor, Barack Obama.

Yet there he was, at the convention, savaging Obama’s record and integrity, and worse, out campaigning with McCain, Palin, and even down-ticket Republicans, where he continued to blast Obama (and his party, which he had claimed to never “really” have left) repeatedly at campaign stops all over America. For a while, it looked like an astute political move, even if reprehensible on a personal level.

But then came the election. McCain lost, in a big way. The senate shifted further to the Democrats (at least 56 votes, counting Vermont independant Sanders but not Joe), and Lieberman’s vote was no longer a tie breaker. Surely it seemed that Joe was due for some comeuppance. But Joe saw it as a chance to push for opportunistic leverage, especially in light of the fact that he now might be the magic 60th vote (if Democrats pull off a runoff and a couple close races still in the counting process). After meeting with Majority Leader Reid, and after saying that even losing just his powerful committee chairmanship was a no-go, and announcing that he had discussed joining the GOP caucus, it was clear that Joe was still trying to have it all ways. Most Democrats renewed their call for his head, citing that if he called their bluff and joined the other side, he would almost certainly kill his chances of re-election in 2012, dim as they already look.

But who was there to reach out and perhaps save him? Barack Obama. In a move certainly designed to signal his commitment to reaching across the aisle (even in his own party), Obama let it be known that he wanted Joe to stay in the caucus. The same Joe who had repaid his support in a time of great need by smearing his character during Barack’s time of need. Was it just political maneuvering? Was it more about securing 60 votes to defeat filibusters than about being truly magnanimous? 

Perhaps, but consider this: The Democrats, even at 60 votes, would likely need some moderate Republicans, since there are a number of Conservative Dems whose votes can’t be counted on on all issues. Also, Democrats know that they will get Joe’s vote on most domestic issues (unless of course those too become for-sale), even if he’s on the other side, and that there are other, moderate Republicans that can be counted on to help on the filibuster issue, including perhaps John McCain. They know that forcing him to the other side, even in name only, doesn’t hurt them on most votes but hurts him back at home.

So why does Obama insist upon “re-habilitating” Joe? I think it’s because he’s exactly what he appears to be. Obama is truly about reconciliation, and is big enough to shrug off the cowardly actions of Joe for the betterment of the country, at a time when huge problems dwarf even obvious and deserved political repercussions. Joe should thank his lucky star that the winner’s not Hillary Clinton, who probably would have his testicles in a jar on her desk as well as his committee chairs and memberships. Or even that Obama didn’t leave it to his fellow senators.

On the other hand, Joe immediately running to talk to the Republicans, and making it public, indicates he’s exactly what he appears to be: Joe the Rat. Here’s hoping that the Democrats run a big name against him in 2012 (how hard would it be for Bill Clinton to move a few miles north of his Harlem offices?). Because even if the President-elect is willing to forgive for now, at some point, he has to realize that vermin is vermin...

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