Lieberman: Blind To Folly
In 1979, I was a freshman state senator lucky enough to be seated next to Joe Lieberman. Lucky because he was majority leader and it meant I could chat him up regularly, and lucky because he was funny, kind, decent and smart.
In 1988, Joe went after Lowell Weicker's U.S. Senate seat. I helped him.
It was then he made his first marriage with Republicans. They hated Weicker, but they didn't come cheap. Miami Cubans, for instance, got Joe to pledge allegiance to their witless and counterproductive embargo. True to his word, he hasn't wavered since.
In his campaign, Joe stuck with Democrats on most domestic issues, while appealing to Republicans with religion, patriotism and national security. He sent those messages by direct mail rather than television, making it harder for either side to tell just who was getting hustled.
In a nation less divided by war and wedge politics, a dove morphing into a hawk drew less notice.
Few took Joe seriously, but at the finish line he and Weicker were as close as two cards in a deck. In the biggest upset in modern state history, Joe won by just enough to avoid a recount.
He spent the next decade solidifying new friendships as his star rose steadily on the right. He was the first Democratic senator to rip Bill Clinton over Monica Lewinsky. Some pundits called him the conscience of his party, an invitation to moralize and a dubious distinction even if true.
Still, nominating him for vice president seemed like a good idea. He calmed Clinton haters and complemented Gore, whose personality tended to seize up in public. Together they were greater than the sum of their parts.
They took a lead and held it until Joe debated Dick Cheney. Cheney, as the world now knows, is a fanatic. No matter. Joe spent the evening making political small talk and Cheney came off like your friendly neighborhood pharmacist. Gore lost his lead that night and never got enough of it back.
Four years later, Joe ran for president on a platform of bipartisanship, civil discourse and war. Democrats despised the war and had long since figured out that Joe's bipartisanship meant nothing more than doing Bush's bidding. Joe got trampled.
He went on drifting right, but changed in other ways. He began attacking the motives of his adversaries, members mostly of his own party. This, more than anything, sparked the uprising that led to his primary defeat at the hands of novice Ned Lamont.
In the general election, Joe reassured war-weary voters that "I hear you." He lashed out at Lamont for saying otherwise. "I'm not for staying the course," he growled convincingly. "Nobody wants to get out of Iraq more than I do." Connecticut voters took him at his word, but it didn't work out as well for them as it had for the Miami Cubans.
Joe's "new course" is escalation. Smart of him not to mention that in any ads. He's one of Bush's two best spear carriers, the other being John McCain, currently being trampled by Republicans.
This past week, the White House issued an interim Iraq report. It claims progress on just eight of 18 "benchmarks" and stretches even for that. Iraq was supposed to complete a constitutional review, but gets a passing grade for forming the committee. And so on. To read it is to be sick at heart.
Unless, of course, you're Joe Lieberman, who says he read it and found nothing to cast the least doubt on our plan of action. In fact, he's now sure the war can only be lost by "defeatists at home."
Meanwhile, our intelligence says that since we invaded Iraq, al-Qaida has grown stronger, including in its capacity to strike us at home. It only confirms what we all should know: The war is a debacle. Each day we fail to end it endangers the life of every American, especially the soldiers we have sent and sent again to fight it.
The most important bipartisan movement in a generation is taking shape on Capitol Hill. But ironically, Joe Lieberman isn't part of it. Instead, he joins Bush in attacking the "defeatists." Yes, we've come to that phase of a war when disgraced leaders blame the outcome on those brave enough to oppose them. Sadly, Lieberman shows signs of giving in to the temptation.
In doing so, he would forsake civility along with bipartisanship and end up standing only for war. I hope he opts instead to take responsibility for his own folly, as the man I met so long ago surely would have done.