Joe hangs ‘em up

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Filed Under Races 2012 on Jan 20 

On Tuesday January 18th, 2011, word came that Joe Lieberman wouldn’t seek re-election to the Senate in 2012. At the end of his current term, he will have been in the Senate for 24 years.

His is an interesting career. He remains the only prominent national Democratic elected lawmaker to speak out forcefully against President Clinton in the wake of the Lewinsky scandal. He said on September 3rd, 1998:

“…But the truth is, after much reflection, my feelings of disappointment and anger have not dissipated. Except now these feelings have gone beyond my personal dismay to a larger, graver sense of loss for our country, a reckoning of the damage that the President’s conduct has done to the proud legacy of his presidency, and ultimately an accounting of the impact of his actions on our democracy and its moral foundations….

The President is not just the elected leader of our country, he is, as presidential scholar Clinton Rossiter observed, “the one-man distillation of the American people,” and “the personal embodiment and representative of their dignity and majesty,” as President Taft once said. So when his personal conduct is embarrassing, it is so not just for him and his family. It is embarrassing for us all as Americans….

In this case, the President apparently had extramarital relations with an employee half his age, and did so in the workplace, in vicinity of the Oval Office. Such behavior is not just inappropriate. It is immoral. And it is harmful, for it sends a message of what is acceptable behavior to the larger American family, particularly to our children, which is as influential as the negative messages communicated by the entertainment culture….”

Although Lieberman fell short of actually calling for President Clinton’s impeachment, his strong denunciation on the Senate floor was far in excess of what any of his Democratic partisan allies had the nerve to do. For that moment alone, Lieberman deserves the respect of any fair-minded political observer.

Like most Jewish politicians elected to national office, Lieberman displayed the almost schizophrenic tendency of being tough-minded on foreign policy—especially when that policy had potential impact on Israel and their sovereign security—and being predictably soft and progressive on domestic/social issues. That is not to be taken as a criticism of Jewish politicians, any more than concern for minority- or gender-related issues are the purview of minority or female office-holders. It’s simply an observation.

But his tough-minded approach to U.S. national security/terrorism was more than the ever-softening Democratic Party could stomach in 2006, which gave rise to the emergence of uber-liberal Ned Lamont as the choice for Democratic Senate candidate that year. As the outcome (pre-Surge) of the War in Iraq looked increasingly gloomy and President Bush’s political fortunes waned concurrently, the Democrats attempted to capitalize on the country’s growing anti-war sentiment. Lamont defeated the still-hawkish Lieberman 52-48% in August’s primary to become the official Democratic Senate candidate that fall. Lieberman, running in the general election as an Independent, easily won re-election, but has continued to caucus with the Democrats in the Senate.

His official status as an Independent (coupled with his likely having decided to himself that he wouldn’t seek re-election in 2012) gave Lieberman the political freedom to come out against candidate Obama and support John McCain for President in 2008. Historically, Lieberman and McCain have agreed on very few domestic/social issues, but when it comes to national security and anti-terrorism, they are in virtual lockstep. As noted earlier, they arrive at those common positions by somewhat different routes (McCain’s relatively traditional foreign-policy Conservatism vs. Lieberman’s Israel-centric concern, which dominates the foreign-policy stances taken by virtually all Jewish politicians), but they share common agreement nonetheless. Had Lieberman still been an ‘official’ Democrat, it would have been far more difficult to publically support McCain.

Lieberman’s departure virtually guarantees a more liberal Democrat will take his place. In recent decades, Connecticut has become more and more a non-competitive Democratic-lock state, far removed from the climate that voted for Reagan in the ‘80’s. Lieberman deserves to be remembered as a voice of more-than-occasional sanity in a Party that’s become increasingly monolithic in thought and deed.

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