Monday, April 21, 2008

The New Zell Miller: Why the Democrats Need to Boot Joe Lieberman Before the Conventions

The Carpetbagger Report has a neat nutshell analysis of the precarious balance that keeps Joe Lieberman in the Democratic caucus, even though he isn't a Democrat any more: he lost the Democratic nomination last cycle to a great newcomer (Ned Lamont), split Connecticut's Democratic vote by running as an Independent, is endorsing and campaigning with John McCain, was considered as Don Rumsfeld's replacement for Bush's Secretary of Defense, had his Superdelegate credentials pulled by the Connecticut Democratic Party, and may be giving the keynote speech at the Republican National Convention. Why haven't the Democrats booted him? Because right now the balance between Democrats and Republicans in the Senate is exactly even, and if Lieberman ditched the Democratic Party then Dick Cheney would effectively become Majority Leader. Which, of course, would be a very bad thing.

All the above is a mess, but things may get even more complicated as we approach the two national Conventions and the general election. A win by either of the Democrats could have "coattails" that also helps downticket candidates for the House and Senate. Obama, in particular, is very likely to help Democrats add a couple more Senate seats, because his strategy in both the primaries and the general election is to win more, if smaller, states while Clinton is aiming at the larger, voter-rich states. (Those two approaches -- more states with fewer voters versus fewer states with more voters -- add up to be roughly equivalent in terms of total electoral college votes for President, but since small states and large states alike have the same number of Senators -- two -- the candidate who wins hearts and minds in a greater number of states, regardless of size, will give coattails to more of his party's Senate candidates, as well. Incidentally, this is another reason I don't think the Superdelegates will override the popular vote and hand the Dem nomination to Hillary, but that's another post.)

If the Dems can gain just one more seat next November, then they don't need Lieberman to retain a majority any longer; he'd lose his ability to blackmail them with the threat of a Cheney-dominated Senate, and Lieberman would lose both his remaining political pull and his committee chairmanship. Hopefully he'd retire at the end of his term, leaving the path open for Ned Lamont to take his rightful seat.

The problem is that Lieberman knows this math better than anyone -- and he's self-centered and manipulative enough to take steps to secure his power. How? By making sure that the Democrats don't win in November. And what's the most helpful thing he could offer the Republicans? It's obvious: for Al Gore's vice-presidential running mate from 2000 to announce that his beloved Democratic Party has abandoned common sense and is weak on defense and hates Israel and loves terrorists yadda yadda -- then cap his betrayal by giving the Republican National Convention's keynote address.

Or, even worse, to do all of the above, then become John McCain's running mate, and the first person in U.S. history to run for Vice President in both parties, giving McCain a very strong shot at winning moderate and independent voters who don't realize that Lieberman is as conservative a war-hawk as they come.

This exact scenario, where Lieberman retains an undeserved ability to blackmail the Democratic party, is why my blog, Vichy Democrats, started calling for the party to throw Lieberman on his keister more than two years ago -- BEFORE he became an indispensable brick in our tenuous majority, BEFORE he was in position to pretend he was leaving the Democratic Party instead of being forcibly ejected and parlay his supposed "Democrat" status into something that helps the Republicans. (Note VichyDems' mission statement, above.)

We should have kicked him out of the Democratic caucus back then. And the Democratic leadership still should kick him out now, before he can hurt us further. I say this even though it would cost us the Senate majority for the next nine months: the current crop of Superchicken Democrats running the Congress now -- especially Harry Reid -- are just waiting for Bush's term to expire instead of taking the good fight right to the neocons anyway, and there's nothing harmful the Republicans could accomplish in less than a year so long as House Democrats refuse to kowtow on legislation and so long as Senate Democrats -- for a change of pace -- hang together to form well-disciplined, cloture-proof supermajorities that are able and willing to filibuster any bad Republican initiatives and nominees.

As I wrote back in March 2006:

Some "liberal" bloggers and commenters (and many, many “concern trolls” who love to give bad advice to the enemy) express "concern" (it's almost always that word, "concern") that targeting and ousting “Vichy” Democrats will cost us seats we need to win back [now I'd say "retain"] one or both houses of Congress.

My usual response is this: I don’t believe that’s the case, because Joe Lieberman and Henry Cuellar are more trouble than their seats are worth and if we unseated them, the rest of the caucus would sit up, take notice, and start acting cohesively again, which ultimately will [net] us a lot more seats than we lose. *** Copying the Republican formula for success doesn’t mean becoming more conservative ***, it means becoming more liberal and being proud of it
[as Newt Gingrich's radical Republicans were proudly conservative]. Articulating, and expecting some reasonable degree of adherence to, a unifying party platform is a good way to articulate principles and win elections, and if that means tossing one or two enablers like Lieberman overboard, good riddance; they're dead weight anyway.

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