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In the zero-sum game that has consumed our national politics in general and the Democrats specifically over the last month, Joe Lieberman has arisen as a new prize to be claimed -- or shunned. The Washington Post reports on the political damage that he may have done to his own party in coming back from Iraq and informing the nation that the Bush strategy has worked and will deliver victory if Democrats would simply not lose their nerve. Amazingly, the word "maverick" never once appears in Shailagh Murray's analysis:
The Connecticut Democrat's strong public defense of Bush's handling of the Iraq war has provided the White House with an invaluable rejoinder to intensifying criticism from other Democrats. In public statements and a newspaper column, Lieberman has argued that Bush has a strategy for victory in Iraq, has dismissed calls for the president to set a timetable for troop withdrawal, and has warned that it would be a "colossal mistake" for the Democratic leadership to "lose its will" at this critical point in the war.
Lieberman's contrarian behavior is not out of character -- he is far more hawkish than the majority of Democrats, and he has vigorously backed invading Iraq and toppling Saddam Hussein from the beginning. But the latest defense of Bush and his stinging salvos at some in his own party have infuriated Democrats, who say he is undercutting their effort to forge a consensus on the war and draw clear distinctions with Republicans before the 2006 elections.
We can stop there for the moment. The Democrats never wanted to draw clear distinctions, which caused their current predicament in the first place. Their strategy was to shower the Bush administration with criticism on the war policy but to keep it as general as possible in order to avoid having to offer specifics on an alternate plan. That went out the window when Jack Murtha got a little overzealous about his assigned task and started talking about strategic redeployments over a six-month window, an "over-the-horizon" retreat that assumed another country in the region would happily host 150,000 American troops whose government no longer had the will to fight for the mission in the region.
When Murtha went specific, the Republicans finally took the initiative and forced a vote in the House on immediate withdrawal. Murtha complained that he didn't mean "immediate" -- at least at that time -- but the logistics of disengaging 150,000 troops on active missions and evacuating them and their equipment and support from the theater of battle would take at least that long under the most expedited of schedules. That folly resulted in the abandonment of Murtha and the notion of retreat on a devastating 403-3 vote, or at least so we thought. We thought the Democratic leadership would finally act responsibly out of sheer survival instinct, but instead they became more unhinged -- forcing voices of reason within their own ranks to publicly oppose the defeatism they espouse so passionately.
That brings us to Joe Lieberman, a tough man to love. He has long been a voice of conscience in the Democratic Party. He was the first to officially denounce Bill Clinton's activities with Monica Lewinsky, making his stinging rebuke on the Senate floor while still speaking against impeachment. That led to his partnership with Al Gore for the 2000 election, and the resulting mess when Gore tried to sue his way into the White House. (Yes, it started with an Al Gore lawsuit because he wanted to change the rules for recounts; you can look it up. They lost the initial lawsuit, too.) Instead of acting as a conscience, Lieberman silently assented to this bald attempt to take through the courts what the Democrats failed to take at the polling stations, a verdict eventually reached in three separate recounts, the last conducted by the media themselves.
How did the Democrats repay Lieberman for his loyalty? They shunned him in 2004, when he should have been the leading candidate for the presidency. He waited too long, perhaps, to announce his candidacy, wanting to give Gore another shot at running so he could endorse the former VP. Gore then shivved Lieberman by endorsing Howard Dean instead of his own former running mate -- just three weeks before Dean's campaign completely collapsed. The Democrats could have waltzed into the White House on a Lieberman-led ticket, but instead chose John Kerry and ignominious defeat at the hands of their most hated enemy.
One has to wonder why, under the circumstances, Lieberman hasn't left the party that so obviously has left him. His dogged loyalty probably explains that, and that makes his latest stand all the more remarkable. Lieberman is no babe in the political woods; he understands perfectly what his statements did to the Democrats. Instead of openly wondering what motivated Lieberman to take this kind of action, Reid and other Democrats in party leadership should ask themselves why they made it necessary for him to do so.
In the meantime, the Bush administration should continue to show Lieberman respect -- not just as an ally on Iraq war strategy, but also the respect due an honorable and formidable political opponent. Lieberman is not and will not be a Republican if he hasn't switched by now, and the GOP should remember that.Sphere It View blog reactions
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