Friday, January 21, 2011

Will Lieberman have a forwarding address?

MY FIRST SERIOUS encounter with Joe Lieberman was no different than anyone else's who sat in front of a TV set in 2000 for what was erroneously billed as a vice presidential candidate debate. The purported contenders pitted Sen. Lieberman, the Democrat, and Dick Cheney, the Republican. Instead, we witnessed an embarrassingly vapid conversation during which Lieberman played pattycake with his sly political counterpart.

Connecticut Joe, who offered no more than a rubbery smile and the bedside manner of Dr. Welby, was Al Gore's greatest blunder (equaling that of John McCain's in 2008!). It was not until much later that we learned the 2000 campaign was no more than a dress rehearsal for Lieberman's plan to seek the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004. The Democratic voters had other ideas and the senator caused no more than a ripple in the primaries.

That rejection is said to have left him so bitter that he became McCain's shoulder-to-shoulder pal against Barack Obama in 2008 - even showing up to endorse him at the Republican convention. You had to wonder. Did he silently believe that McCain might tap him for veep? I don't know. But Lieberman's track record of see-sawing in his allegiance offers a strong case that he had it in mind.

Well, he has announced that he won't seek a fifth term in 2012 and I can only say good riddance, even if we have to wait two more years. Having switched to the independent slot while caucusing with the Democrats, he fashioned his new life on Capitol Hill by shaking down the Democratic leaders with the threat that unless he held on to the chairmanship of homeland security, he might just start pattycaking with the GOP again. With a hair-thin margin of error in the Senate, the Democrats wouldn't risk it.

So he is back where he wants to be, in front of the TV people. And as recently as yesterday, he was defending his hawkish support of the invasion of Iraq with his version of the facts that have long been destroyed. From President Obama, who was betrayed by Lieberman, on down the pecking order, Democrats have dished out pro forma praise of Lieberman while such conservative pundits as David Brooks have applauded Lieberman's independence. But, again I wonder. Brooks insists the Democrats would be nowhere in advancing their key issues such as health care and the stimulus package if Lieberman had not been on board for critical votes. But would fiercely independent Joe have changed his mind if he didn't retain his committee chair?

The answer should be obvious. When hasn't he planted himself in the main arena on any issue to meet his own self-absorbed need for attention? He now says he wants to start a new chapter in his life. We can only guess what that will - or won't - be. After all, he still has time to change his mind to seek another term.

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