January 19th, 2011

BREAKING NEWS: A Big Teary Goodbye to You, Yes You, Joseph Isadore Lieberman, You Rascally Son of A Liquor Store Owner

by Philip Baruth

All the sources close to Big Joe agree: he “will not seek” a fifth term as the senior politically-hermaphroditic Senator from Connecticut. Was Lieberman essentially forced out by an ugly and nearly unprecedented antipathy on the part of voters? Perish the thought. Other than being despised by Democrats and of no further use to Connecticut Republicans and Independents, and losing his eponymous party to anti-Lieberman forces, there wasn’t any real problem with re-election apparently. Not so you’d notice.

Notes Marshall Wittmann, longtime staffer: “He believes that if he were to run for re-election it’d be a tough fight. He’s confident he could’ve won that fight. He’s had tough fights before. But he wants to have a new chapter in his life.”

VDB expects this sort of pap from Wittmann, who has made a long, well-paid career of toadying for Lieberman. But we should also all prepare ourselves for the Deluge now: the flood of tributes in the mainstream press to Big Joe’s mavericky qualities, his moxy, his chutzpah, his moderate centrist sweetness and light.

For example, the NY Times teases its Lieberman retrospective with this little nugget: “Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut built a career following a moderate line that often angered the liberal wing of the Democratic party.”

At the risk of seeming both angry and liberal-wingish, we should point out that there is a good deal more wrong than right in this relatively short declarative sentence.

First, Lieberman did not follow any line, ever. To state that he did so is to demean lines in general.

Lines directly imply some consistency of trajectory. No, Big Joe wanted to be Vice President (which is to say President), and he, like John McCain, saw a zig-zag path to that objective, one that lay outside party, outside logic, and outside the bounds of integrity. And if the zig-zag wasn’t working at the moment, you could trust Lieberman to chuck it in favor of random dots.

Second, Joe was a moderate only in the Sean Hannity worldview. In truth, Joe Lieberman was an extreme hawk, saber-rattling and trash-talking to the detriment of US interests globally.

As regards the healthcare debate, which the Times would like to see as proof of Lieberman’s ability to split the difference between the major parties, again they ignore what was in actuality a remarkably extreme stance: extreme in that Lieberman, like Ben Nelson, openly flakked for insurance companies and made no secret of it. And no secret, by the way, that he was scotching the public option partially to serve Democrats who supported Ned Lamont in 2006.

Third, and last, it was not Big Joe’s purported moderation that angered the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. VDB has no problem whatsoever with genuine moderates. Take Dick Lugar. Supported START II. Recently called for a ban on assault weapons. Lugar is a moderate in the sense that his tendencies lead him toward the sensible. He’s susceptible to logic. We love us some Lugar.

No, it wasn’t Lieberman’s so-called moderation that angered VDB. It was his open mendacity. Joe Lieberman lied, with a bald face and out of both sides of the mouth on that face, as a matter of policy, in order to achieve his larger ends.

Case in point: telling Connecticut voters that he, Big Joe, could help elect a Democrat to the White House in 2008, in ways that Lamont could not. And of course, at that very moment, he and John McCain must have been deep into the planning stages for McCain’s own disastrous 2008 run, a run Leiberman would support with every flaccid fiber of his being, because he believed that John McCain was his last, best, doomed hope of success at the national level.

We should note that the Times article strikes a compassionate note, in the later grafs. It seems that Joe was hurt, way back in 2004, when Democrats summarily rejected his pro-War candidacy for President. Then, in 2006, when Connecticut voters rejected Joe at the primary level, he was further injured and embittered. And so, in the Times’s dewy view of the past, it’s the dirty hippies who brought down the pro-morality statesman Joseph Lieberman, who rendered him bitter and changeable and craven.

And that is a narrative we’ll probably have to live with, frankly, as there’s nothing the mainstream media loves more than its image of a noble centrism above and beyond the dirty realities of party politics. Joe, and his good friend John, learned this truth very early, and it served him well.

Would we have preferred to see Lieberman whipped soundly in a 2012 primary, in spite of one last attempt to slither up the pantleg of the Democratic electorate? Yes, of course. A thousand times yes.

But this feeling isn’t so bad either. Lieberman’s numbers were so abysmal that he, even he, Joseph Isadore Lieberman, knew better than to lunge again at the voters. Forget the Tea Party. Forget that Fox News leads the ratings by a country mile. Maybe we’re not getting stupider every day after all.