I respect Joe Lieberman. As a Jewish American I was proud of Al Gore’s selecting him as the Democratic Vice Presidential candidate in 2000. I thought he conducted himself with dignity and grace but still delivered a good partisan punch when required. In 2004 I respected Lieberman for his authenticity and refusal to pander to Democratic Party activists over the Iraq War. I disagreed with him intensely over his views but there is something to be said for a man demonstrating that kind of strength.
Like all 100 Senators he looks in the mirror and sees someone he believes should be President. He has that singular vanity and ego that epitomize so many in public life. It would have been easy for him to be seduced by that ambition and try pandering his way to the nomination. For example, Senator John Kerry voted for the war yet tried to be the anti-war candidate at the same time. If the war had gone differently I suspect he would have been closer to Lieberman than Howard Dean. Too many Democrats have an authenticity problem in their opposition to President Bush. For five years the Democrats were spinelessly rolled on tax cuts, bankruptcy legislation and the Terry Shiavo situation because of their cowardice to say what they really believe unless the polls tell them it’s OK. Somehow, Senator Lieberman has retained his authenticity while occupying the political center and that merits more than a little respect.
Today Lieberman finds himself in the Democratic Party’s crosshairs and many of my fellow liberals consider him a traitor as the New York Times reported today. Yet I wonder if MoveOn.org’s Tom Matzzie would have demonstrated the same courage Joe Lieberman did in the 1960’s and put himself on the line for civil rights. As a young man, Joe Lieberman went to the deep south to protect the rights of blacks to vote. If you think that was an easy and safe activity for a Jewish person to do, think again. Lieberman was risking his life for a just cause. Would Tom Matzzie have done the same? I have to ask myself if I would have done the same. Ask yourselves that question.
However, more than personal respect is required to earn support. Leadership is also about judgment and accountability. Sadly, this good man’s record in recent years is sub-par. First, it was largely through Senator Lieberman’s initiative that the bureaucratic catastrophe known as the Department of Homeland Security was created. Lieberman is the ranking Democrat on the Senate’s Government Affairs Committee. Aided and abetted by Senator Susan Collins of Maine, they rushed an ill- advised reorganization of the Federal government that has further undermined our ability to fight terrorism and respond to disaster. Senator Kennedy correctly referred to it at the time as “re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.” The Bush Administration was actually right to initially oppose the plan but flip-flopped in embracing it because it appeared to accomplish something on the surface. Indeed, President Bush hypocritically exploited the creation of Homeland Security as a wedge to defeat Democrats in the 2002 mid-term elections. As we have seen in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, our response infrastructure has become even less coordinated. The one component of national disaster recovery that used to work well – FEMA – was neutered by the creation of this Department. As Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton recently reported in their independent commission’s final report, both the President and Congress have largely failed to make us safer four years after 9/11. As the ranking Democratic member of the Senate Government Affairs Committee, doesn’t that fall under Senator Lieberman’s bailiwick?
I also find Lieberman’s assertions troubling that we shouldn’t question the President’s credibility regarding the Iraq War. We have more than enough evidence to at least be suspicious that the Bush Administration misled the country in a war of choice. Lieberman’s position that questioning Bush only will undermine his credibility at our “peril” because he has three years left in his term is flat wrong. The fact that Bush has so much time left in his Presidency demands that he be held accountable. As we have already seen, an unchallenged Bush without proper oversight has put this country in tremendous peril. Already we’re seeing some positive results from a more aggressive Democratic posture: Bush has responded to Congressman Murtha and is listening to the Pentagon more about exiting Iraq; Secretary of State Rice retreated somewhat on our policy of detainees while in Europe; and the President has finally acknowledged mistakes in the early stages of the war - a necessary first step to reach a an exit strategy consensus. Does anybody believe that could have happened without the Democrats finally behaving like an opposition party? If anything the Democrats have been too supplicant.
Domestically Lieberman was too willing to sell out on Social Security and ready to undermine the Democrats efforts to stand up to Bush earlier this year. He also aided and abetted the downgrading of accounting standards responsible for the Enron type scandals that have caused so much harm to the middle class. Finally, there is the bankruptcy legislation that passed earlier this year at the behest of the banking and credit card industry and at great harm to struggling families. Lieberman opted for two-faced behavior as he released a press release denouncing the new law yet supported the Republican parliamentary tactics on cloture in order to serve his contributors from the banking and credit card industry. I’ll write more about the new bankruptcy law and the Democrats complicity in its passage in a future post. For the time being let me just say that any Democrat who supported it by their votes on the floor or through parliamentary shenanigans as Lieberman did, deserves to be challenged in a primary. Lieberman is a good man. But he also appears to have lost touch with the modest working class roots that he came from.
Joe Lieberman has become what I label a “Republocrat”. A Republocrat is someone who politically seeks to benefit from the Democratic label but undermines progressive values. If I were a Connecticut resident he would not have my vote.