Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Lieberman gets away with it

I suppose we knew this was coming.

The Senate Democrats have voted and Joe Lieberman gets to keep his chairmanship. After announcing the vote, Harry Reid said, "This was not a time for retribution," and "If you will look at the problems that we face as a nation, is this a time we walk out of here saying 'boy did we get even?'" Reid himself, John Kerry, and Dick Durbin spoke in favor of Lieberman keeping his chair. Lieberman credited Obama's recent statement that he held "no grudges" as the argument that saved his butt. If you look at this affair as nothing more than payback for personal grudges or a quest for retribution, the Democratic Senators made the right choice. But, if you look at this affair as nothing more than payback for personal grudges or a quest for retribution, you either don't understand the issue or you are intentionally distorting it.

Lieberman's apologists like to point out that he usually votes with the Democratic caucus, but there is a lot more to being a good member of that caucus than just a voting record. His public statements have always been a problem. Lieberman is that kind of self-hating liberal who constantly feels the need to prove his even-handedness by attacking and undermining his own side. His function as a moral scold for the party has been part of his political persona since day one. He attacked Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky witch hunt and impeachment melodrama. He damaged efforts to get a fair vote count in Florida in 2000 by conceding the race, even though conceding or not conceding should be the prerogative of the guy heading the ticket, not the second banana. His actions during the recent election were nothing more than a logical continuation and culmination of his entire political career and nothing new.

During the race, Lieberman might have been forgiven if he had only supported John McCain, though there is plenty of precedent for not forgiving him. When John Bell Williams and Albert Watson supported Goldwater in 1964 they were stripped of their seniority and chaimanships in the House, as was John Rarick for supporting George Wallace's third party run in 1968. But Lieberman went beyond just supporting his friend. He attacked Obama and questioned his loyalty to the United States (a breach of Senate ethics. He attacked the Democratic Party, saying he feared for the survival of the country the if the Democrats gained a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. He campaigned for down-ticket Republicans like Norm Coleman.

Don't get me wrong, I do believe Lieberman deserved to be punished for his backstabbing, but I also believe that there were more important reasons why he should have been removed from the chairmanship of the Senate Homeland Security Committee. I think it was a bad idea to let him have it after he was elected as an independent two years ago, but I understood the necessity that the Senate Democrats felt for appeasing him. Without Lieberman in the caucus, the Democrats wouldn't have had the fifty-first seat that they needed for an unambiguous majority. I understood the reasoning of the Senate Democrats, but I viewed it as caving in to blackmail on Lieberman's part. I expected them to stop appeasing him after this election, but I have been disappointed.

Lieberman was a terrible chairman of that committee during that last two years. No sooner had the last congress convened than did he announce his intention to break a promise to constituents to investigate the Bush administration's incompetent and tardy response to the Hurricane Katrina devastation. Over the next two years he completely failed in his duty to investigate gaps in our national security, war profiteering, or politicization of the civil service. In contrast, Rep. Henry Waxman, chair of the counterpart committee in the House gave us the very model of how an oversight body should perform its duties. It looked nothing like what Lieberman was doing.

Lieberman is not a Democrat and he can't be trusted. The Homeland Security Committee is one of the most important in the entire Senate. The person setting the agenda for that committee should be a member of the Democratic Party and someone who supports the priorities of the Party and who is willing to actually do the job that the committee was formed to do. Lieberman cannot be trusted on either of those cases. Reid said this is not the time for retribution, but can we trust Lieberman not to turn use his committee position to attack and undermine the Obama administration? His entire history says that's exactly what he will do with his position.

There is another place where retribution, not towards Lieberman, but on his behalf, comes into the equation. Lieberman hates the progressive rabble--the activists, the bloggers, the outside the beltway mob who are presumptuous enough to want a say in how the people who they have elected do their jobs. And we return the feelings. Over the last two weeks, a number of pundits have encouraged the Democrats to slap us down, repudiate our interests, and put put us in our place. Allowing Lieberman to keep his chairmanship has been seen as the perfect finger in the eye for the netroots community. After all, what have we done for the Party to deserve respect except raise millions of dollars for their candidates and work tirelessly to turn out the vote? The parties both have a history of disappointing their outer fringes, but only the Democrats have a history of insulting and repudiating them at every opportunity. What's particularly strange about the insider's hostility toward the the netroots is that netroots aren't especially extreme in their program. Kos is considerably to the right of me on most issues, and I don't consider myself a radical. The only real differences between the netroots and the insiders on most issues are matters of style and tactics, not of goals.

At least we got to be happy for a few days. I suppose it's better to get the inevitable disillusionment over with early.

John Aravosis has more on our disappointment.

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