Monday, November 10, 2008

What to do about Joe Lieberman?

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Anti-Democrat Joe Lieberman met with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid the other day to discuss his future, and, in response, I suggested that he ought to be given the boot -- not only no chairmanship, but removed from the Democratic caucus. The Democratic Party ought to be a big tent, I still think, but Lieberman has crossed the line into enemy territory.

And yet...

First, Reid is being nice: "Joe Lieberman votes with me a lot more than a lot of my senators," he said yesterday on CNN. "Joe Lieberman is not some right-wing nutcase. Joe Lieberman is one of the most progressive people ever to come from the state of Connecticut," which may or may not be a compliment.

Second, Obama apparently wants Lieberman to remain in the party: "Obama has informed party officials that he wants Joe Lieberman to continue caucusing with the Democrats in the 111th Congress," HuffPo is reporting.

The key is Obama, not Reid. And it makes sense for Obama to reach out to Lieberman:

For Obama,... the move may be a shrewd gesture towards reconciliation, in the process taking a potentially taxing political fight off the table.

Fellow Connecticut Senate Chris Dodd, who has spoken out in favor of Lieberman remaining in the party, explained as much to reporters on Friday:

"What does Barack Obama want?... He's talked about reconciliation, healing, bringing people together. I don't think he'd necessarily want to spend the first month of this president-elect period, this transition period, talking about a Senate seat, particularly if someone is willing to come forward and is willing to be a member of your family in the caucus in that sense."

A Democrat close to Lieberman, meanwhile, said he thought that keeping Lieberman in the fold "would be a good move for Obama as a way to make real his promise of new politics, a less partisan Washington and more unity. He would do so at some risk. Obviously there is a liberal wing of the party that wants Joe punished... "

Whether or not Lieberman accepts is another matter. And he may not if he is stripped of his chairmanship of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (which is the more significant matter). But then at least it would be Lieberman leaving the party, not Reid (or Obama) kicking him out. And, should he remain, he could perhaps be counted on to vote with the party (and with Obama) most of the time, or at least when it matters. In this respect, Obama, as shrewd as ever, is well aware that every vote counts.

Still, as Digby puts it:

[Obama] will regret it. Joe Lieberman is a sanctimonious egomaniac who has no sense of loyalty or gratitude and he will stab Obama in the back as often as possible. He may even use his subpoena power on the Homeland Security Committee (which they are going to have to let him keep) to harrass him on behalf of conservative interests. It's a huge mistake to keep him in the caucus where he will have knowledge of their strategy and legislative tactics. He will be the first one called upon to "speak for" Democrats who are unhappy with Obama's inevitable "overreaching." He is a mole for the Republican party.

For now, I trust Obama's judgment and am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt (and I doubt Lieberman almost as much as Digby does). So if he wants Lieberman to remain in the caucus (or even as committee chair), well, fine. So be it. I have no reason to doubt that he knows what he's doing. I just hope he's not letting politics, and his supposed commitment to "reconciliation," get the better of him.

Lieberman, after all, will ultimately do what's best for Lieberman.

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