After talking, the other day, about the limits of representation, I feel I have to look at the other side: the junior U.S. Senator from Connecticut, Joe Lieberman.
It seems, indeed, that Senator Lieberman is on the other side, these days, no matter what side we’re talking about. So let’s start with a little history, which most of you will know. First, while he’s the “junior” Senator, he’s been in his seat for 21 years; he’s just junior to Senator Chris Dodd, who’s served eight years longer.
Joe Lieberman was a Democrat when, in 2000, Al Gore selected him as his running mate for the presidential election. We liked Joe then, we liberal Democrats, even while we had no illusions about his leanings. He’s always been more conservative than Senator Dodd, but he was on the right side as the Democrats were trying to beat George Bush and move the not-terribly-charismatic Vice President Gore into the White House.
But with George Bush in the White House instead, Senator Lieberman increasingly sided with the Republican President — most notably on the war issue, but also in other areas, such as most of the tax cuts (except on the very highest income levels). Lieberman’s stand on the Iraq war went against the interests of most of his constituents, and his popularity wavered.
In 2006, he was defeated in a primary election by Ned Lamont, a Connecticut businessman with an anti-war platform. Brushing that off, the Senator registered for the general election independently, promising that he was really a Democrat, and that apart from the war issue he would stand with the Democrats in the Senate. His seniority in the Senate, in addition to that promise, was appealing, and the voters of Connecticut backed him over Mr Lamont in the end.
Senator Lieberman did not keep that promise. More and more, he has been siding with the Republicans, blocking Democratic-supported legislation, forcing unfavourable capitulations and bill amendments, and, most recently, threatening to support a Republican filibuster against the health-insurance reform bill unless the bill is modified as he’d like it to be.
He doesn’t claim to be representing the people of Connecticut, but is following his own agenda in his own way. By overriding their own primary-election rebuke of him in 2006, they have, as Senator Lieberman sees it, given him free rein to go where he pleases.
And where he pleases is not pleasing, these days. If his demands are met — and it appears that they will be — we’ll have far weaker health-insurance reform that many of us would like, far weaker than many Democrats in the Senate have been working for. If we get a bill that does not have a public option, that’s partly due to Senator Lieberman. If the upper-middle-aged uninsured are not able to get coverage through Medicare, that’s due to Joe Lieberman as well, even though three months ago he said he supported that.
As Donna Magee, a protester from Baltimore, says in the NPR item, “I voted for him when he ran as vice president. And now he is completely turned the other way and is against all the things that we want.” Well, OK, it’s a little silly to say that you voted for him in 2000: you voted for Al Gore, and Joe Lieberman was along for the ride. And, too, you live in Maryland, not Connecticut, so you’re not one of his constituents. Fine. But Ms Magee’s statement is correct: Senator Lieberman has, over the last eight years, turned the other way, and is now, it seems, against all the things that we want.
And all the things that the majority of the people of Connecticut want, more to the point. He is not representing anyone. Perhaps the worst of it is that he’s taking advantage of his position as a “spoiler”, as the 60th Senator, who can swing over and support a filibuster, to force the 59 real Democrats to accede to his demands. That’s truly abusing his position and violating the trust the voters of Connecticut put in him in 2006.
And, alas, it won’t be until 2012 that they can vote him out. The Senate Democrats can, though, take away privileges, such as his chairmanship of the Homeland Security committee (a position they actually gave him after he left the Democratic fold). Harry Reid, it’s down to you; stop rolling over for Joe.