The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Heresy of Joe

As an Connecticut native, I’ve followed the career of Senator Joe Lieberman closely. Like all politicians on the national stage, he suffers from occasional hubris and is sometimes overbearing, but unlike the many ideologues who populate the two major political parties in this country, he is ideologically unpredictable, reasonably ethical, and unquestionably a man who follows his own convictions. For most of his political career, he was viewed as a liberal Democrat, until he made the fatal error (from the point of view of the Left) of supporting the war in Iraq.

As he announced his retirement commencing in 2012, I knew the ideological Left would rejoice. They did, with virtually every left-leaning pundit castigating the senator for his heresy. It seems that on the far-Left and the far-Right, no one can have a point of view that strays from ideological purity. No one.

Lieberman became persona non grata when he ran as an independent (after the Democratic party in Connecticut rejected him in 2006) in his very blue state and won. Many blue state Democrats believe fervently that the majority of this country is left of Center, and that in the blue states, virtually everyone except the troglodytes is a progressive. Lieberman’s victory reminded them that this delusional point of view is incorrect, and they never forgave him for it.

Gail Collins writes about Lieberman in the NYT. Her snarky column is representative of many pieces that have been written about the Senator over the last few days:
In his re-election campaign in 2006, Lieberman, having learned nothing whatsoever, suggested that anyone who disagreed with him about the war was endangering the country. (“We undermine the president’s credibility at our nation’s peril.”) He lost the Democratic nomination. More shock and outrage.

When he won running as an independent, it cemented his sense of exceptionalism. However, this did not seem like a trick he could pull off twice, unless both of the major parties cooperated in 2012 by once again nominating terrible candidates. (The Republican nominee in 2006 was in trouble for, among other things, using a phony name while betting at the local casinos and failing to pay his gambling debts in New Jersey.)

However, on Wednesday, Lieberman assured everyone that he was not stepping down because the odds of his losing the next race were astronomically high but rather because he had been reading the Old Testament and decided that to everything there is a season.

He will leave behind a long list of achievements, from helping to consolidate the nation’s intelligence gathering services in a way that appears to make it more difficult to gather intelligence, to threatening to filibuster the health care reform act until it had been watered down to suit his own high principles.

You will find it all in my upcoming book, “Everything Bad Is Joe Lieberman’s Fault.”

The fact that Collins is wrong in fact and wrong in substance never deters a true believer. But her position is tame compared to that of Emily Bazelon writing in the left-leaning Slate:
Why do I loathe, loathe, loathe my 68-year-old four-term senator? My feelings are all the stronger for being fairly irrational. Lieberman's views are closer to mine than many politicians on whom I don't expend one iota of emotional energy. This, of course, is his power: He never loses his power to disappoint. Then there is the spectacle of it all: After each act of grand or petty betrayal, each time he turns on his former supporters, the Democratic Party and the Obama administration came back begging for more. Throughout the last Congress, he never let anyone forget he was the 60th vote.

At least Bazelon is honest enough to state that her feeling are irrational. Like Collins, she cannot accept any ideological impurity.

Joe Lieberman’s predictable treatment by pundits on the Left tells us more about the Left than it does about Joe Lieberman. The very people who talk endlessly about “vitriolic” political speech, who rage against “obstructionist” opponents, who demand “bi-partisanship” as long as it does not involve compromise cannot accept one of their own who has drifted away from ideological purity on a few occasions. The far-Right is just as guilty of this, but the Left continuously tells us how much more evolved they are than their opponents on the right. Doesn’t seem to be the case.

Lieberman has served his country and his state well. He deserves better.