Friday, October 30, 2009

For Democrats, time to cut ties with Lieberman

So Joe Lieberman was against the filibuster before he was for it, eh?

Surprise... surprise... surprise.

Back in his more Democratic days, back when he was genuinely a member of the party, and presumably happy to be so, he argued that the filibuster -- not just any one filibuster but the filibuster generally -- "ails Washington."

That was 1994. Now, in 2009, having become the Republicans' favourite Democrat, then an independent, then, on the campaign trail, an enthusiastic supporter of John McCain, his long-time friend, while smearing Obama, and being essentially a Republican even while sucking up to Obama, post-election, he's all for the filibuster, at least when it comes to the public option.

Meanwhile, eyeing 2010 and beyond, he drifts ever further to the right, a "Democrat" when it's convenient for him, and when it's in his self-interest to pretend to be one, like when he wants to caucus with the majority and chair the Homeland Security committee, but hardly much of a Democrat at all. He makes Arlen Specter seem like FDR.

Throughout much of the Lieberman saga, from his loss to progressive favourite Ned Lamont to his successful campaign as an independent, I said time and time again that I wanted the Democratic Party to be a big tent, a party that welcomed diversity and dissent, a party that wasn't, like the GOP, driven by ideological purification. I even defended him now and then. Even earlier this year, I understood why Obama and Democratic leaders in the Senate wanted to keep him in the party -- his vote mattered, and it was important for the new president to reach out to his opponents across the spectrum and to try to build a broad coalition to support what would turn out to be a significant legislative agenda including an economic stimulus package, health-care reform, and, soon, one hopes, renewable energy and climate-change initiatives.

And, yes, ideally, Lieberman would vote with the 58 Democrats and one other independent, Bernie Sanders, to give Democrats the 60 votes they need to break Republican filibusters.

But now? What's the point? It doesn't seem to matter how big the tent is -- and, remember, it includes Bayh, Landrieu, Lincoln, among other non-liberals, and that's just in the Senate -- Lieberman wants no part of it. It may very well be that he still harbours grudges and resentments, and that his cozying back up to the party this year was just a blip, but, whatever drives him, the simple fact is that he's not just not much of a Democrat, he isn't even all that friendly to Democrats, including to Obama, the one who went out on a limb for him to bring him back into the fold.

It no longer makes sense to let bygones be bygones, because the bygones aren't gone. They're alive and well and in the present and aren't going anywhere.

It is long past time for "coercive measures," but perhaps threats -- notably, of removing him from his beloved chairmanship -- will keep him in line. Or perhaps not. Lieberman will do what he wants to do, and vote how he wants to vote, and he just can't be trusted to support the Democrats on anything, let alone on anything as historic as health-care reform and on anything as significant as the public option, about which he continues to lie.

He will say, of course, that he's an independent who calls them as he sees them, but what really matters to him are those grudges and resentments, and his own political survival in some form. Perhaps threats will keep him from joining the expected Republican filibuster, even if he ends up voting against reform, as is likely. Whether they do or they don't, however, what is clear, and what has been clear for a long time, is that the Democrats, who have been so generous to him over the years, even after his ugly efforts against Obama last year, need to cut ties with him instead of continuing to buy off his occasional vote while he plays his vengeful "independent" games as a Republican ally.

Enough, at long last, is enough.

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