by Denis Campbell —
Is it payback time? For two weeks, we’ve watched the Democratic Party leadership shamelessly threaten while pandering to Senator Joe (Judas) Lieberman in the slim hope he will do the honorable thing and accept his punishment and loss of Chairmanship for overtly supporting John McCain.
In return, he will help them make up a 60-seat Senate majority that, in theory, would present a filibuster-proof super majority. Riiiighht and if I click my heels three times Dorothy and I will return to Kansas.
The Dems scored a respectable five-seat Senate gain (plus two independents makes the count 57 to 40) and could pick up one to three more seats in the recounts over the coming week. The Dems placed 84-year-old, six-term senator and federal convict Ted Stevens on the endangered species list (down now by just over 1,000 votes with 28,000 still to count almost two weeks after the election).
Also wins in Georgia and Minnesota are possible but not entirely probable. And even if they get to 60 seats, there is no guarantee Lieberman will play ball. One need only look at Joe’s recent behaviour and hawkish record to know as an “Independent” he will not suddenly change his stripes and vote 100% of the time with the Democratic Party leadership.
The problem is, maverick Joe the Hawk is unlikely to toe the line and vote with the party with whom he caucuses on… war issues. He already has failed to call Senate hearings on key issues, his counterpart in the US House being very aggressive in demanding answers from Administration officials on everything from the war to security. Joe has mostly sat deaf and dumb leaving the heavy lifting to Henry Waxman.
Joe is an angry old man who threw his lot in with another angry old man during the recent Presidential campaign. He is upset with his former party because, well, they made it personal during his Senate re-election bid in 2006.
Joe lost the Democratic primary in 2006 to Ned Lamont. Party elders — including former President Bill Clinton and Senate Majority (then Minority) Leader Harry Reid — urged him to accept the result and go quietly and gracefully home… Be a big boy, it happens to every politician at some point, you’re 64, you’ve served with distinction, there could be Cabinet or other posts in the near future, Ned is younger, the voters are saying it’s time for change, new blood… etc., etc.
Joe listened for a few days then with 25 supporters formed a new party and ran as an independent in “The Connecticut for Lieberman Party” (the other good, less egotistical names were all taken?). Joe saw polls that suggested in a three-way race he could win. The Republican challenger was very, very weak and a crowded field would siphon votes away from Lamont (who narrowly won the primary) thus giving Joe the victory.
The hubris would be funny enough except… he won 50% of the vote in the General Election, beating Lamont by 10 points. The Terminator was lose in the Senate with multiple scores to settle as the ranking ‘independent.’ Since everything in the Senate happens on the basis of 1) majority control AND… 2) seniority, Lieberman, who has served since 1989 and just began his fourth term in office, was always going to be a force to be reckoned with.
With Senator Biden leaving the Senate to become Vice President, two Republican retirees and a convicted felon to be either replaced by vote or tossed, he moved further up the list inside the top 20. Because of seniority and caucusing with the ruling Democrats, he was awarded in 2006 Chairmanship of the powerful Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Several key Democrats want him stripped of that chairmanship as punishment for supporting McCain and down ticket Republican races. Lieberman to date has refused to apologise and demands he retain his Chairmanship.
Here’s the rub, even if he stays, are the Dems naïve enough to think he will somehow learn his lesson and behave from here on out? Yes, throwing him under the bus could be problematic because he could join and caucus with the Republicans giving them 41 seats, even though the only issue they agree on together is the war. He could also throw up his hands and just resign from the Senate. Some would cheer that except the Governor of Connecticut is a Republican who would appoint a Republican to replace him.
So the betting odds remain in Traitor Joe’s favour. Barack Obama hinted he still wants him in the caucus (keep your friends close and…?) and the drumbeat for punishment has somewhat dimmed, so he could actually get away with it? When will the Dems stop coddling this malcontent?
I personally think he should do the Samurai thing and throw himself on his sword. But first he would have to change countries and come from a place where the buck and responsibility are accepted and stop on his desk. He would have to acknowledge in his own being that he acted without decency of honour. He is though after all a Senator, a politician and lobbyist favourite so there is little chance of that happening in our lifetime.
My vote? Throw him off the bus. A message needs to be sent just as Republicans have done in the past. Use the political goodwill and capital of an incoming Obama Administration to court moderate NE Republicans (an endangered species) like Snow and Collins from Maine to build true bi-partisanship and make a filibuster proof majority both unnecessary and unneeded. Not as crazy as it sounds.
Denis Campbell is a US journalist based in the United Kingdom. He contributes to newspapers and magazines, is a BBC Radio election commentator and publishes the daily e-magazine The Vadimus Post from the Latin Quo Vadimus – where are we headed and do we know why?
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