Magazine article The American Conservative

Lieberman's Revenge

Magazine article The American Conservative

Lieberman's Revenge

Article excerpt

If the Connecticut hawk can't convert the Democrats, he'll take them down.

JOSEPH LIEBERMAN was once at home in the Democratic Party. He won his Connecticut state senate seat in 1970 as a Democrat, rising to majority leader. Then he won the attorney generalship in 1982, where he stayed until his U.S. Senate victory. His friends still argue that he was robbed of the vice presidency in 2000.

Even after losing the 2006 Senate Democratic primary to the antiwar Ned Lament, lieberman promised to remain faithful to his party. He announced that he would caucus with the Democrats and stand with them on procedural votes if elected, though he owed his seat to the GOP: 70 percent of Connecticut Republicans cast their ballots for lieberman, compared to only 33 percent of Democrats. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid allowed him to keep his seniority and his committee positions. And lieberman told colleagues that he wished to see a Democrat elected president in 2008.

That doesn't mean Lieberman hasn't been trying to renovate his old home. His plan: "to keep alive the principled, internationalist, and muscular foreign policy tradition that once lay at the heart of the Democratic Party." This translated into reflexive approval for the 1991 Gulf War "because our president has asked us to vote to support him" and early advocacy of intervention in Kosovo because "fighting for the KLA is fighting for human rights and American values." From 1995-2001, he chaired the Democratic Leadership Council, a hub for liberal hawks, and in 2002, he joined the Project for a New American Century's Committee for the Liberation of Iraq.

Lieberman argues that Ms is not only a principled position but a politically advantageous one. He told a group at Johns Hopkins University last year that by the time he reached office, liberal internationalism "had been out of fashion in Democratic circles for 20 years. But then, Democrats had also been out of power for most of those 20 years-something that struck me and many others as more than coincidental. Simply put, the American people didn't trust Democrats to keep them safe, and the McGovernite legacy was a big reason why."

With the nomination of Barack Obama, lieberman sees the McGovernite faction ascendant. So he has reneged on his promise and endorsed Republican John McCain, renewing his ideological assault on his old party. "Dean Acheson once warned, 'no people in history have ever survived, who thought they could protect their freedom by making themselves inoffensive to their enemies,'" he recently wrote. "This is a lesson that today's Democratic Party leaders need to relearn."

But Joe Lieberman has changed his teaching tactics. For this self-styled "Independent Democrat," being loyal to his former party now means inflicting defeat upon it. If he becomes a major figure in the McCain administration along the way, so much the better.

Writing in the New York Post, Lieberman explained why he crossed party lines: "[T]he dangers we face as a nation are too profound, and the challenges we face too real, for us to let partisan politics decide who we will support." He campaigns regularly with the Arizona senator and co-authors editorials with him. "I am spending all the time I can outside the Senate to help him become our next president," he recently told the press.

Acting as a gunslinger for McCain means firing direct shots at the presumptive Democratic nominee: "My Senate colleague Barack Obama ... has not been willing to stand up to his party's left-wing on a single significant issue in this campaign, nor for that matter has he worked with Republicans in the Senate during his three and a half years there to forge the tough, bipartisan compromises that produce results for the American people." By contrast, lieberman claims that McCain "has shown the political courage throughout his career to do what he thinks is right-regardless of its popularity in his party or outside it . …

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