Some people seem to be upset that Sen. Joe Lieberman is sucking up to the Republicans on the war in Iraq.
The Connecticut Democrat’s strong public defense of Bush’s handling of the Iraq war has provided the White House with an invaluable rejoinder to intensifying criticism from other Democrats. In public statements and a newspaper column, Lieberman has argued that Bush has a strategy for victory in Iraq, has dismissed calls for the president to set a timetable for troop withdrawal, and has warned that it would be a “colossal mistake” for the Democratic leadership to “lose its will” at this critical point in the war.
Liberal political groups, including Democracy for America and MoveOn.org, are considering ways to retaliate, including backing a challenge to Lieberman in next year’s Democratic primary. Former senator and Connecticut governor Lowell P. Weicker Jr., an opponent of the war, has vowed to run as an independent, absent a strong Democratic or Republican challenge to Lieberman.
I don’t really know why anyone is surprised by this. Sen. Lieberman has always come across to me as the nerdy kid who becomes the best buddy of the football jocks because his dad doesn’t lock the liquor cabinet. Regardless of the senator’s sincere beliefs — he’s always been a hawk about war in the Middle East — he will be little more to the Republicans than a talking-point for the Republicans who say that “reasonable Democrats” support the president, just as Democrats use Sen. Lincoln Chaffee, Republican of Rhode Island, as their “reasonable Republican.” The more the Democrats gnash their teeth and express their outrage, the more delighted the Republicans will be at the Democrats having conniptions as opposed to any real contribution Mr. Lieberman could make to their cause.
The problem for Mr. Lieberman is that he will pretty much find himself friendless and weak; once the Republicans use him up they’ll discard him, and even if he becomes Rumsfeld’s successor they will never fully trust him. It wouldn’t be a first for a modern president to choose a SecDef from the other party — vis. William Cohen in the Clinton administration — but once Bush is out of office (damn, I loved writing that last clause), Mr. Lieberman will have burned his bridges to both parties. He will pass into his well-deserved obscurity and the next time you see him will be on one of those “Where Are They Now?” shows on “Larry King Live” right after the Cowsills.