What was the “soundbite line” from the press conference where Senator Joe Lieberman announced that he may cut and run to an “unaffiliated” ballot line if Connecticut Democrats don’t renominate him in August? That’s easy:
“I have loyalties that are greater than those to my party.”
That is an honorable-sounding line.
But to whom are the 2000 Democratic vice presidential nominee’s loyalties directed?
That, of course, is the senator’s problem.
Were Lieberman merely a predictable centrist Democrat, willing to mumble mild criticisms of the Bush administration’s foreign policies but unwilling to make a serious break with the administration, he would not be worrying about the increasingly-viable Democratic primary challenge he faces from anti-war progressive Ned Lamont.
But Lieberman is not a predictable centrist. He is an in-the-pocket Bush man — at least as far as the war in Iraq goes.
Lieberman called for war with Iraq before Bush did — in a 2001 letter to the president that was also signed by Arizona Senator John McCain — and he has been such an enthusiastic booster of the occupation that Bush actually kissed the Connecticut senator at the 2005 State of the Union.
Nothing, not realities on the ground in Iraq, nor realities on the ground in Connecticut, has caused Lieberman’s loyalties to waver.
But it is possible to be principled and wrong. And, in the case of both Lieberman and Bush, it is certainly possible to mistake principle for a stubborn refusal to admit fundamental errors.
Whatever the explanation for the Connecticut senator’s “my-president-right-or-wrong” positioning, one thing remains certain: Lieberman’s principles are, indeed, Bush’s.
Last month, Lieberman cast an expected vote against the proposal by Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold and Massachusetts Democrat John Kerry to get U.S. troops out of Iraq by next year. But he also went a long step further, refusing to support a vaguely-worded proposal by Rhode Island Democrat Jack Reed and Michigan Democrat Carl Levin that urged the Bush administration to start thinking about an exit strategy.
That stance isolated Lieberman in a group of Democratic senators, mostly from Republican-leaning states, who refuse to put an inch of distance between themselves and George Bush’s warmaking. (Even Hillary Clinton — no war critic she — voted for the Levin-Reed resolution, as did plenty of other centrist Dems.)
But Lieberman’s not from a Republican-leaning state. In fact, a June Survey USA poll found that Connecticut was the sixth most anti-Bush state in the nation — after Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York and New Jersey.
Only 30 percent of Connecticut voters surveyed last month approved of the president’s performance.
Few states register higher anti-war sentiment than does Connecticut, and the distaste for the occupation extends far beyond the Democratic base to include independents and quite a few Republicans.
Some pundits still suggest that, running as an independent in November, Lieberman might prevail against Democratic-nominee Lamont and Republican Alan Schlesinger. They believe, as Lieberman has suggested, that the senator’s problem is merely with the Democratic partisans who will turn out for the August 8 primary.
But if Lamont, who has turned out to be a much more attractive and effective candidate than even his proponents in the blogosphere initially expected, beats Lieberman in August he might well beat him again in November.
Indeed, if Ned Lamont runs against Bush and Lieberman, he will be a lot closer to the Connecticut mainstream than the incumbent.