Will Lieberman Ever Pay A Price?

Whether it be his third-party re-election in 2006 or the recent vote to keep him on as chair of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Joe Lieberman keeps managing to escape any accountability for trashing Democrats, pursuing policies that have made the US less safe and just being an all-around bad Senator. So the question is, will he ever be held accountable?

The ultimate goal for those of us who want him punished, of course, is defeating him in 2012, and hey, it's never too early to start. FireDogLake has already launched a Defeat Joe Lieberman pledge to start building the online army.

Certainly, Connecticut seems ready and willing to give Joe the boot in 4 years, especially after his dishonorable mission to take down Barack Obama this year. Markos has the latest Research 2000 poll results:

Do you approve or disapprove of the job Joe Lieberman is doing as U.S. senator?

Approve 36 (45)
Disapprove 61 (43)

If the 2012 election for U.S. Senate were held today would you to reelect Joe Lieberman would you consider voting for another candidate or would you vote to replace Lieberman?

Reelect 35
Consider Someone Else 18
Replace 48

And talk about buyer's remorse:

If you could vote again for U.S. Senate would you vote for Ned Lamont theDemocrat Alan Schlesinger the Republican or Joe Lieberman an Independent?

Lieberman (I) 34 (36)
Lamont (D) 59 (51)
Schlesinger (R) 3 (7)

But all that is four years from now. What can be done more immediately? For one, my hope is that Barack Obama manages to leverage his own advocacy for Lieberman into unyielding support from Joe for Obama's agenda. If he were to re-convene a Gang of 14-like group of Senate "moderates," Lieberman could conceivably lead a swing coalition in the Senate that would have the potential to determine the fate of many a cloture vote; I'd like to think Obama secured Lieberman's assurance that he would wield that power to help advance Obama's agenda and do his best to remove any obstruction from moderate Dems and Republicans.

But on a more punitive level, we may have to settle for a censure by Connecticut Democrats as they've indicated they may do next month.

Two members of Connecticut's Democratic state central committee, Audrey Blondin and Myrna Watanabe, said they'll still ask Connecticut's top Democrats to consider a resolution repudiating Lieberman for publicly backing McCain. It also would ask him to resign from the party.

"Ultimately, there were no consequences to his actions," Blondin said.

A meeting of state Democrats is scheduled for Dec. 17. [...]

The resolution circulated by Watanabe and Blondin says Lieberman's actions exhibited "extraordinary disloyalty to countless Connecticut Democrats without whom his career as an elected official would never have been possible."

It calls on the 72-member state central committee to "publicly censure and repudiate the words and actions" of Lieberman and asks him to leave the party.

There's more...

The dismal Democratic messaging of the Lieberman debacle

I know a lot of people right now are furious Joe Lieberman has managed to keep his committee chairmanship.  I'm furious for a different reason.  In fact I'm not even mad at Joe Lieberman at this point or the fact that he managed to keep his chairmanship.  Don't get me wrong, I don't like Joe Lieberman at all.  I mean environmental policy is my highest priority (which he's actually been a leader on) and I still can't stand the guy.  From his crusade on decency standards, to his campaign against Ned Lamont, his foreign policy stances and support for the war, and adding in the 2008 election, Lieberman has always struck me as an arrogant and unapologetic egotist.

What I'm mad about is that once again I watched most of our esteemed Democratic leadership completely fumble the messaging around this whole ordeal and do so from Day One.  And that just scares the hell out of me.  Because while Democrats can get the messaging right campaigning, when it comes to governing they have shown an amazing capacity to just shoot themselves in the foot.  Seriously, they shown time and time again an amazing talent of turning the most white-hat, popularly loved, sunshine, kittens, and apple pie policy issue and into a tale of sordid backroom political maneuvering.

The entire narrative (at least in the mainstream press) on the caucus vote has been on the lines of 'will the Democrats punish Lieberman for criticizing Obama?'  Of course, you'd expect the media to run long and hard with that storyline no matter what message the Democrats were pushing; it has drama, betrayal, anger, all the good stuff of any MSM story.  But the Democrats never pushed any other message - they didn't argue on policy grounds at all.  Every quote, every damn quote, was framed around party loyalty and nothing else.  Not the effect Lieberman would have on Obama's popular if he kept his Homeland Security chair.  Not even a mention of what issues are expected to come before his committee and the effect they will have on the America people.  No, just some complaints about how Lieberman said Obama was inexperienced, and details of secret political machinations.  

As contrast, take the chairmanship dispute between Waxman and Dingell.  Waxman has come out with a powerful message that he'll best be able to help Obama enact the agenda he promised and that the American people want.  That message has worked well in the media, and while there are always political maneuvering tidbits in each article, most of the stories I've read have mostly focused on the policy issues behind this challenge.  In short, the Waxman-Dingell dispute has been grounded in issues affecting Americans and comes off as a principled argument relevant to American's real world concerns (just imagine how the media narrative would have changed if just one Senator had dared mount a challenge to Lieberman's chairmanship).  

By focusing on the party's workings versus the party's mandate, Democrats ended up backing themselves in a corner, which is precisely what allowed Lieberman to keep his committee.  Expel Lieberman and the first act of the new Democratic majority would be seen as pure political retribution, something the independents, young and infrequent voters so successfully courted by the party this last election, just can't stand.  Maybe that couldn't be helped regardless of what messaging party leaders used.  But they never even tried to fight it, guaranteeing that they'd concede to Lieberman in the end.

The conciliatory prize is that by not expelling Lieberman, the Democrats have put forth a good message: We are the party of inclusion.  It's a prize we have to settle for, but it's still powerful stuff, especially considering what we can expect to see from the Republicans for some time to come.  Having lost almost everything but the South and 'militia' areas of the Northwest, and having no moderate nonprofit infrastructure left, the Republican message for the next few years will be determined by it's most orthodox and ideologically conservative members.  Of course, Lieberman might still wreck important legislation with his powerful committee assignment, but hey at least we got a good message out in the end...

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Me and Joe are forgiven !

In exchange for surrendering his position on Environment and Public Works, Joe Lieberman got to remain in the Democratic caucus and stay on as chair of  Homeland Security / Governmental Affairs and head of the Armed Services / air and land power subcommittee.

Big props to netroots hero and "Countrywide VIP" Chris Dodd for negotiating the deal !

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Process Over Policy

Jonathan raises the possibility that by giving Lieberman a pass, Obama could be operating on the assumption that he'll "have an easier go in forwarding his legislative agenda in the Senate with Lieberman beholden to him than Lieberman weaker, but mad at him."

I strongly disagree.

First, there's really no evidence to support an assumption that Lieberman will feel either constrained or in debt now that Obama's allowed him to keep his gavel. Why? Because given his past actions, there's no reason to imagine Lieberman will finally start operating in good faith. For example, after Obama campaigned for Lieberman in his primary against Lamont and then stayed almost completely out of the general election, Joe certainly didn't act like like he owed his seat to Obama. Quite the contrary: Lieberman proceeded to endorse McCain and smear Obama throughout the Presidential election.

I also don't agree that "Lieberman could make Obama's life more difficult as an angry gadfly (a Tom Coburn, as it were) than he would as chairman of the Homeland Security Committee." Had Lieberman been stripped of his Homeland Security chair, he would not have bolted to the Republican caucus (where he'd have less power). Rather, it was only an empty threat meant to sidetrack the traditional media. There's simply no way Lieberman would have started voting like a Republicans on more issues than he does now. But he would have been without subpoena power.

As I and others (including Josh Marshall and Jane Hamsher) have argued, the best governing decision would have been to replace Lieberman as chairman, since he's actually done a pretty awful job. Instead, Lieberman's record was ignored, and his dirty, gutter political tactics were condoned.

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Policy Over Process

Some in the press may try to frame today's vote on Joe Lieberman, and specifically Barack Obama's actions in relation to the vote, on left versus right terms, that it was a Sister Souljah moment in a sense. Yet it seems to me that this actually fits more neatly into another frame -- namely that Obama putting policy above process.

During the general election, there were process arguments over whether or not it was correct for Obama to opt out of the public financing program, instead opting to fund his campaign privately. Leaving aside the debate over whether Obama made the right decision on a process level -- and I believe he did, because a campaign funded by millions of Americans giving on average a hundred or two hundred dollars is a publicly financed campaign, one that is not subject to the type of influence problems afflicted by campaigns relying more heavily on large dollar donations -- it's fairly apparent that at least part of the decision rested on the reality that Obama's likelihood of winning, and thus being able to enact progressive change, would be greater opting out of the system than it would be opting in. To put it another way, Obama put policy ends ahead of process.

The selection of Rahm Emanuel as White House Chief of Staff can be viewed in this frame as well. While some complained that Emanuel is too partisan, or that he is too tied to the previous Democratic administration -- process arguments, in a sense -- it appears that Obama wanted someone who had experience both in the White House and on Capitol Hill, and moreover someone who will be a bare-knuckles fighter on behalf of his administration and its policy goals. Again, putting policy over process.

Obama's buttressing of Lieberman's position within the Senate Democratic caucus also appears to fall within the realm of putting policy over process. No doubt Lieberman campaigned against Obama and would-be Democratic Senators, too. Process dictates (and I think it's right here) that Lieberman should not enjoy the benefits of the Democratic majority he undercut and campaigned against, retaining his chairmanship. Yet Lieberman could make Obama's life more difficult as an angry gadfly (a Tom Coburn, as it were) than he would as chairman of the Homeland Security Committee -- particularly if he owed his chairmanship to Obama, which he does. Under this rationale, Obama will have an easier go in forwarding his legislative agenda in the Senate with Lieberman beholden to him than Lieberman weaker, but mad at him.

This isn't to say that Obama made the right decision, only that his actions with regards to Lieberman aren't necessarily best described in terms of left and right.

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