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Desperate Measures | The Nation

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John Nichols

John Nichols

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Desperate Measures

Joe Lieberman, down in the polls and desperate as Tuesday's Connecticut Senate primary approaches, tried on Sunday to remake himself as something he has not been for a very long time: A true-blue Democrat who respects dissent in his own party and the country as a whole.

Accusing his anti-war primary challenger, Ned Lamont, of waging "a distortion campaign against me," the Bush administration's favorite Democratic senator grumbled, "Now I understand that many Democrats in Connecticut disagree with me and are very angry about the war. I don't think there is anything I can say to change your mind about whether we should have gone to war or when we should bring the troops home, and at this point I'm not going to insult you by trying. What I will say is this: I not only respect your right to disagree or question the President, I value it. I was part of the anti-war movement in the late 1960s, so I don't need to be lectured by Ned Lamont about the place of dissent in our democracy."

With the primary just two days away, the senator professed to be shocked, shocked by suggestions that he might be something less than a diehard Democrat.

"The more I have talked to voters in these closing days, the more I am concerned they have been shortchanged in this campaign," said Lieberman. "Instead of hearing an honest debate about the issues that really matter to people, they have been overwhelmed with bogus charges about my Democratic credentials. Instead of having an honest discussion about your future, we're getting negative politics at its worst."

The new Democratic Joe Lieberman is a far cry from the Joe Lieberman who has spent the past four years as the pet Democrat of the conservative Fox News combine -- grinning, nodding and chirping his approval as conservative commentator Sean Hannity has trashed war critics and accused Democrats who challenge the Bush White House of something akin to treason.

Consider this sample from the transcipt of a February 10, 2006, appearance by Lieberman on Hannity's radio program:

HANNITY: I agree with you, and Senator, this is why I am very appreciative of the positions you've taken in the war on terror in the last number of years. And I know you've taken a lot of political heat from it from within your party. You've heard of Howard Dean's comments about you, for crying out loud.

LIEBERMAN: (Laughter)

HANNITY: I mean he could barely come out and support you. And, you know, Karl Rove said that Democrats have a pre-9/11 worldview, and he said, it doesn't make them unpatriotic, but it makes them wrong.

LIEBERMAN: Yeah.

HANNITY: He believes, profoundly consistently wrong. And I think the latest example of this is, we can kill members of Al Qaeda, but we've got Democrats up in arms over the idea that if Al Qaeda calls into the United States from an outside country, that, boy, we'd better get a court order to listen to them. It's absurd to me.

LIEBERMAN: Yeah...

In the course of the same program last winter, Hannity offered to campaign for Lieberman, telling the neoconservative senator: "If you ever want me to do anything, for you and your re-election, I think we ought to have Conservatives for Lieberman, a big fundraiser in Connecticut, and if I could ever do that, I'd make it the biggest blowout celebration ever."

Lieberman responded by thanking Hannity and telling the Fox personality: "You're a great guy. It would just be fun to be with you."

Perhaps even more amusing than the sudden sympathy for Democrats and dissenters displayed by Lieberman in his pre-primary speech was his newfound anger over the stolen election of 2000.

"I am the only Democrat in America to run against George Bush in a national election twice," said Lieberman, referencing his 2000 Democratic campaign for the vice presidency and his miserable 2004 run for the party's presidential nod. "I even beat him and Dick Cheney once, if all the votes had been counted."

The senator's right, of course. Al Gore would have become the president, and Lieberman the vice president, if all the votes in Florida had been counted in December, 2000, with an eye toward producing a result that reflected the sentiments of the electorate. But what Lieberman failed to mention on Sunday was that he has, for years, been Joey-on-the-spot when George W. Bush has needed an election ally.

During the 2000 presidential campaign, vice presidential candidate Lieberman parted company with his running mate to tell the Wall Street Journal that Gore's populist rhetoric wasn't sincere. Don't take Gore seriously, Lieberman promised, Democrats could be counted on to deliver for corporate America.

During the Florida recount fight of that year, Lieberman told Democrats to back off their challenges to Republican efforts to count votes that were cast late or illegally.

During the 2004 presidential campaign, after Democrats had overwhelmingly rejected Lieberman's candidacy for their party's nomination, the senator traveled to the battleground state of Florida three weeks before the election and told a predominantly Jewish crowd in Delray Beach that criticism of Bush's Middle East policies were "unjustified." "We are dealing with a president who's had a record of strong, consistent support for Israel," Lieberman argued. "You can't say otherwise."

It is not surprising that Joe Lieberman waited until the end of this summer's Connecticut primary campaign to complain about "bogus charges about my Democratic credentials." He's hoping that no one has time to check out the charges before election day. If they do, they will find that there is nothing "bogus" about the Lamont campaign's detailing of Lieberman's penchant for carrying water for Bush and the neoconservatives.

Joe Lieberman is hoping that Connecticut Democrats won't recall his record when the vote on Tuesday.

If they do, he's as doomed as the polls suggest.

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