Follow the Bouncing Joe: Lieberman and the Democrats

Monday, January 26th, 2009

James Besser in Washington

It’s not always easy keeping up with Joe Lieberman, the Democrat-turned-independent-turned-John-McCain-supporter who now wants to sound like ..well, a Democrat.

According to media in Connecticut, Lieberman was gushing over President Barack Obama’s inauguration last week, even though he spent months trying to defeat him.

“This is truly a great day for our blessed nation,” Lieberman said in a statement.  “I was deeply moved and inspired by President Obama’s eloquent and stirring address. Now is the time to unite as a nation behind our new president’s leadership and address the challenges facing our country at home and abroad.”

Lieberman, according to press accounts, told a group of supporters he would help Obama become one of the nation’s “greatest and most successful” chief executives.

This, mind you, was the same Joe Lieberman who was so opposed to Obama that he went to the Republican National Convention to question Obama’s qualifications, who tirelessly stumped Florida trying to convince Jewish voters that Obama would be bad for Israel and who waxed enthusiastic about GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, who turned out to be a poison pill for many Jewish voters.

Well, that’s just politics, right?

For all his high-profile help Lieberman, once thought to be the Republicans’ secret weapon with Jewish voters, may have been a non-factor on November 4.  He may have helped McCain’s fundraising, especially among wealthy Jewish donors already inclined to give to Republicans, but there’s no evidence he changed more than a handful of votes.

James Wolcott, a Vanity Fair contributing editor, wrote that “Lieberman was the loser’s loser of the 2008 election—in the immortal words of Groucho Marx, Go, and never darken our towels again.”

But Lieberman is nothing if not adaptable; now he seems ready to cast his lot with the winning side.  Perhaps to forestall that, the  Connecticut Democratic State Central Committee is demanding that he publicly apologize for his partisan sins.

Lots of luck.  While state party officials want to make sure Lieberman’s treachery remains  fresh in the minds of Connecticut voters, national party leaders have different interests. They may huff and puff about Lieberman the turncoat, but they’ll do it quietly, just in case they need his votes.

Ditto President Obama, who knows he faces some tough fights in Congress even with a solid Democratic majority in both Houses on issues such has his economic stimulus plan and regulatory reform; Lieberman, who generally votes with the Democrats on such issues, is more valuable to the White House as a potential vote than as a partisan punching bag.

That’s why Obama prevailed on Senate Democrats to let Joe keep his chairmanship of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.  And it’s why the national party isn’t going to make him jump through any more hoops.

But one thing you can be sure of; Connecticut Democrats are laying their plans now for a strong, well-financed candidate to challenge Lieberman if he chooses to run for a fourth term in 2012.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.