Sen. Joe Lieberman, once a Democrat and now an Independent who caucuses with the Democrats in Washington, has hitched his rising or falling star to Sen. John McCain, the presumptive nominee for president on the Republican Party ticket.
Lieberman’s support of McCain is trans-ideological. Theories abound: Some, mostly hot-headed leftist in the party of former President John Kennedy and former Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia, both Democrats who were not uncomfortable with a strong and vigorous military, regard Lieberman as a traitor and scoundrel; others think he is primarily interested in the survival of Israel, whose foreign policy is more compatible with that of the United States than, say, Iran’s or Russia’s; still others view him as an independent in the mode of former Sen. Lowell Weicker, whom Lieberman displaced when state Republicans tired of being kicked around by a faux Republican who, they thought, belonged in the Democrat Party. When Lieberman ran for Weicker’s office, they summoned their courage and gleefully voted for Lieberman.
None of these thoughts are unthinkably wrong. It is perfectly understandable why the left, pacifist wing of the Democrat Party should regard Lieberman with loathing; he is not a man who surrenders easily to the implacable enemies of Israel and the United States. Like McCain, Lieberman has supported the aims of the Bush administration in the Iraq war, while being critical of its early, poor prosecution. The astounding success of the surge, which has hastened the pacification of Iraq, has partially – perhaps too late -- validated their views.
There is little doubt that Lieberman’s support of McCain has grievously disappointed the energetic wing of the Democrat Party here in Connecticut. Progressive Democrats in Connecticut eagerly supported anti-war candidate Ned Lamont in a primary over Lieberman. In the general election, Lieberman prevailed over Lamont, after which welts and wounds began to appear on the backs of progressive flagellants such as Tom Swan, who managed Lamont’s losing campaign.
Lieberman’s presence as the lead speaker at the Republican national convention, Swan says, should remind Democrats that “He’s been Karl Rove's puppet” since Lieberman took a call from Rove on primary night. “Why should we be surprised he's carrying his water again?”
Former Democratic state chairman and state chairman of the Lamont campaign George Jepsen said Lieberman has “completely written off the Democratic Party, not just in Connecticut, but nationally.”
But this is the overheated rhetoric of boiled-in-oil Lamont partisans. As a matter of fact, Lieberman has caucused with Democrats, being careful to withdraw when the Democrats discussed political strategy, and his voting record is not much different that of Sen. Chris Dodd, whose prescriptions on the war in Iraq so closely follow those of Swan, Jepsen and Lamont that he might be suspected of being a pawn of Weicker, whose long-time chief of staff, Tom D’Amore, actively worked on the Lamont campaign.
Asked whether he planned to strip Lieberman of his perks, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, taking a pragmatic view, said, "All my close votes, he's always with me, whether it's the budget or energy issues. No matter what it is, he's always with us. He just does not vote right on Iraq. ... Why would I want to throw away a good vote?"
Lieberman is a programmatic Democrat who has supported an unpopular war. That’s it. That is the extent of his departure from Democrat orthodoxy. He will not be acceptable to Republicans as vice presidential choice, and he will never be acceptable to the pacifist wing of the Democrat Party.
His speech will be warmly greeted by Republican conventioneers; but it is the message they will embrace, not the messenger.
Lieberman’s future roll in Connecticut politics is as yet undecided. Recently, his picture was removed from campaign headquarters, but he has four years remaining in his congressional contract. Should McCain prevail over Sen. Barack Obama – a big “if,” since Obama will be able to outspend McCain in negative ads placed strategically in toss-up states – and should Lieberman be tapped by McCain for a cabinet position, not unlikely, the former Democrat’s seat in the senate, lying vacant, will be filled through an appointment made by Connecticut Governor Jodi Rell, a golden opportunity to show her pluck and partisan Republican stripes by appointing a Republican to serve out Lieberman’s last four years.
One can only imagine how the Lamontistas in the Democrat Party would greet this reversal of fortune.
Republicans will be arguing that since Democrats have successfully nudged Lieberman from their party, claiming he is a tool of Karl Rove, why should they be upset when a Republican governor chooses another tool of Rove to replace him in the senate?