I’ve had a lot of arguments with my friends about Joe Lieberman.
When the Connecticut Senator and former Al Gore running mate was defeated in the 2006 Democrat primary by Ned Lamot, many progressives were elated. Lieberman had infuriated Democrats by sticking with Bush’s Iraq war policy long after the support of most Americans had peeled away.
Unwilling to surrender his seat, Lieberman ran as an independent and won the general election by ten points over Lamot and 40 points over his Republican challenger.
Most importantly, however, after the election, Joe decided to caucus with the Democrats and provide the pivotal vote in returning the Senate to Democratic majority control, 51-49 (a 50-50 split would have maintained the Republican majority with Vice-President Cheney breaking the tie). Lieberman didn’t have to do that.
Two years later, Sen. Lieberman outraged and enraged Democrats by actively supporting John McCain for President and even received serious consideration as the Republican’s running mate.
Well, after the dust settled in ’08, Joe again petitioned to caucus as a Democrat and again was admitted back into the club (although as penance he was removed as chair of the Homeland Security Committee). But, most importantly, Lieberman is now one of 60 Senators (58 Democrats, plus Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders) who comprise the so-called “filibuster-proof" majority.
Why bring this up now?
There’s already a lot of yakking about conservative House Democrats, particularly their reluctance to support a public health insurance option. Recently, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel reportedly urged progressives to lay off the Blue Dogs. Apparently concerned that the House could be in play in 2010, Emanuel thinks it’s unwise (not his words) to do anything which could jeopardize losing the Democratic majority (and with it, of course, the speaker, committee chairs and, of course, the agenda).
Losing the lower house of congress would be a disaster, far worse than not getting a public option into health reform legislation. An argument could be made that failure to pass a meaningful and robust health bill is what would really put swing state Democrats at risk in ’10. Maybe, but I doubt it.
The ’06, ‘08 and '10 races should be seen as our equivalent of parliamentary elections, with our principal purpose to maintain majorities. I will not support any primary challenge to any incumbent Congressional Democrat. Period.
Finally, back to Lieberman.
A lot of Democrats hate Lieberman. Although he lines up with conservatives on foreign policy, he’s moderate on most other issues. (His rating by Americans for Democratic Action - a generally accepted indicator of liberalism - is 85 percent).
In my view, our effort to punish him in 2006 nearly backfired and we were lucky to keep him on our side. Among other lessons is if you’re going to take on the king, you’d better be able to kill the king.
There’s very little upside at this point in threatening any Blue Dog Democrat with a primary challenge. The President and the nation need these congressional majorities and we shouldn’t jeopardize that prospect because the left-wing of the party wants to “teach somebody a lesson.”