If there was one thing that rational political observers agreed upon after last November’s Democratic debacle, it was that Democrats need to do a much better job of distinguishing themselves from the Republicans.
That recognition should dim the prospects of Joe Lieberman as a serious presidential prospect in 2004. After all, as former Labor Secretary Robert Reich has noted, Lieberman is famous for taking conservative stands that “rankle (the) liberal Democrats who comprise the core of the party.”
Yet, with his Monday declaration, Lieberman is officially in the running. And by many estimations — especially those of conservative commentators for whom Lieberman has long been the Democrat of choice — he is a leading contender for his party’s nomination.
Lieberman’s position at or near the head of the pack of Democratic contenders has more to do with the fact that he was the party’s 2000 vice-presidential nominee than with enthusiasm among Democrats for his positions. That’s because, while he seeks to be the party’s standard-bearer in the 2004 contest, he has been a frequent and enthusiastic ally of the Bush administration on many of the most critical issues of the past two years.
Lieberman says he wants to campaign as “a different kind of Democrat.” That he certainly is.
While the majority of Congressional Democrats have expressed clear reservations about the Bush administration’s rush to launch a war with Iraq, for instance, Lieberman has been cheerleader-in-chief for the Bush line.
Even before the president began pressing for war with Iraq, Lieberman was beating the battle drums for “regime change.” One of the leading Senate backers of the 1991 Persian Gulf war resolution — which was supported by only 10 of 55 Democrats in the Senate at the time — he remains a far more outspoken advocate for a new war with Iraq than many Republicans. Lieberman co-sponsored the Senate resolution authorizing President Bush to wage war against Iraq. Indeed, at the Stamford, Connecticut, press conference where he announced his candidacy Monday, Lieberman declared, “I’m grateful that President Bush has focused on Iraq.”
Lieberman went on to criticize Bush for being too soft on North Korea, criticizing the administration for “taking the military option off the table” with regard to the regime in Pyongyang.
In addition to promoting a Republican-lite line regarding foreign policy, Lieberman frequently echoes the GOP line on domestic social and economic issues. To a greater extent than any other Democrat seeking the 2004 nomination at this point, Lieberman has found himself in coalition with the religious right. Lieberman has made common cause with former Vice President Dan Quayle, the Rev. Pat Robertson, the Rev. Jerry Falwell and others who condemn the entertainment industry for promoting what the senator calls “amoral” programming.