This writer has worn out several computers criticizing Senator Joe Lieberman, going back to the days when he was mounting a conservative-backed challenged to progressive Republican Senator Lowell Weicker. In 1988, Lieberman was a Democrat in good standing with a party that was willing to defeat one of the nation’s leading liberals in order to secure a minimal partisan advantage.
Now, Lieberman is a free-floating independent — having been reelected, after losing his 2006 Democratic primary, as the standard-bearer of an ego-trip party called “Connecticut for Lieberman” — who caucuses with the Democrats.
On foreign-policy issues, Lieberman is more neo-con than the neo-cons. On economic policy, he is, like Indiana’s Evan Bayh and a number of other senators, a Democratic Leadership Council corporatist with a slight sympathy for trade unionism. On social policy, he’s a moderately liberal mainstream Democrat.
During the course of the 2008 presidential race, Lieberman chose to follow his neo-con instincts and back Republican John McCain, the Arizona senator with whom he shares a passion for a long-term U.S. presence in Iraq.
Lieberman’s ridiculous appearance at last summer’s Republican National Convention should have been sufficient punishment for the senator from Connecticut. After all, the man who was himself the Democratic nominee for vice president in 2000 had to try and find nice things to say about McCain’s veep pick, the absurdly unqualified Sarah Palin.
But there are many Democrats who now propose to purge Lieberman from the party’s Senate caucus — a move that would strip him of committee assignments and the advantages that accrue to a senior senator serving with the protection of the majority party. The issue will come to a head in short order, as the new Senate majority determines whether to kick this particular senator out of the club.
Were I a senator, I’d oppose the purge.
It is not that I have any particular taste for Lieberman or his policies. I have interviewed the man a number of times and covered him in many settings and, frankly, he has always impressed me as a self-serving petty moralist who is a bit too bemused by himself — and who is, of course, as consistently wrong on trade policy as Rahm Emanuel and as consistently wrong on Afghanistan as Barack Obama.
But it strikes me that purging members from caucuses never looks very good and never has the desired effect of achieving the ever-illusive goal of ideological purity.