It seems that there is no place for Jumpin’ Joe Lieberman, at least not at this year’s national conventions.
The outgoing Connecticut senator, who became an Independent in order to keep his seat back in 2006, is beltway “homeless,” ostracized by the extremists on either end of the duopoly, punished for being consistent about promoting progressive social ideals while defending a muscular foreign policy and “the use of military power to support our values.”
So waxes former Bush 43 speechwriter Michael Gerson in a Washington Post column today that can only be described as a kind of lover’s lament:
Over the years, Lieberman (I-Conn.) has broken a number of barriers — marching with Martin Luther King Jr., and becoming the first Jew on a presidential ticket. Toward the end of his career, however, this nation’s ideological segregation proved impossible to overcome. Lieberman’s political homelessness is less a statement on his remarkably consistent views than on a party system where moderation has become heresy.
Gerson describes Lieberman as a Scoop Jackson-Truman-Democrat and JFK acolyte blindsided by polarization and the WWE tactics of the squared circle of Washington politics (how apropos is it that a candidate running to replace Lieberman used to run the WWE?). Lieberman wants to be JFK, but he’s competing against Michael Moore on the left and The Donald on the right, and so he stands as a lonely marker of an America that could have been.
“[I]t’s an indictment of both main parties that a supporter of civil rights, economic justice, strong defense, economic opportunity and religious values should end his service as a party of one,” Gerson groans in conclusion.
He ends the piece after spending much of it blaming the Democrats for not being duly appreciative of what Lieberman had to offer. To Gerson it is clear: when the party needed him in 2000, it supported his nomination as vice presidential candidate alongside Al Gore. His credentials lent an “independence factor” to the ticket at a time when Gore was trying to distance himself from his boss Bill Clinton (such irony, given that Clinton is now giving the keynote at the 2012 DNC!). For this, the choice of Lieberman, the so-called conscience of the Senate, who had openly scolded Clinton for the Lewinsky affair, appeared inspired.
Gore and Lieberman nonetheless lost the election, decided by a Florida recount and divided Supreme Court decision. Lieberman seemed to emerge with Democratic goodwill intact.
Then, as many political narratives go these days, 9/11 happened. Lieberman’s Coldest War inclinations drove him straight into the neoconservative Republican camp that soon came to run the Pentagon’s policy shop and the entire war enterprise (my colleague Daniel Larison has more). No doubt by the time he officially went Independent after losing his 2006 Democratic primary, there were people in town who could not tell whose team he was on. The Democrats offered him the chairmanship of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, which he has used in many respects to fuse his warmongering impulses with domestic jihad hunting. This has done little to foster the warm and fuzzies with the Muslim and Arab-American communities. So much for civil rights.
The rightwing of the Republican Party has been lapping this up all along, treating Lieberman as an honorable — if junior — member of the club. This culminated in his speech before the 2008 Republican convention in St. Paul, when he not only stumped for his old friend Sen. John McCain, but called VP nominee Sarah Palin a “reformer” and “a leader” who could really “shake up” things in Washington.
It seems like Lieberman seems to have less of a problem swallowing his principles (just how did cheerleading for Palin square with his “progressive interests in civil rights and domestic programs”?) than he does picking the wrong bandwagon on which to leap.
Gerson, for obvious reasons, wants to heap scorn on the Democrats for pushing Lieberman out, but never mentions 2008 or why the Republicans chose this year to leave him off the RNC invite list. That would be a more interesting story. The most this Hill newspaper account offers is that Mitt Romney doesn’t count him as a friend, nor an asset:
Lieberman does not have a close relationship with Mitt Romney, this year’s putative GOP standard-bearer. Even if he did, Romney — who has fought off charges that he’s a faux conservative — would not want a former Democrat on the stage extolling his efforts to bridge divides on healthcare or other issues.
Lieberman’s response is sad: “This is one of the benefits of being an Independent — you don’t have to go to either convention,” he told The Hill. Snarkiness aside, no one wants this kind of send-off, especially a politician who has been at the center of the Washington scene for 25 years. But he chose the war, he chose to be in a “party of one,” and now, regretfully, he has no party to go to.