“What kind of Democratic Party are we going to have?” he asked in an interview with New York magazine. “You’ve got to agree 100 percent, or you’re not a good Democrat?”
That’s far from the issue. Mr. Lieberman is not just a senator who works well with members of the other party. And there is a reason that while other Democrats supported the war, he has become the only target. In his effort to appear above the partisan fray, he has become one of the Bush administration’s most useful allies as the president tries to turn the war on terror into an excuse for radical changes in how this country operates.
Citing national security, Mr. Bush continually tries to undermine restraints on the executive branch: the system of checks and balances, international accords on the treatment of prisoners, the nation’s longtime principles of justice. His administration has depicted any questions or criticism of his policies as giving aid and comfort to the terrorists. And Mr. Lieberman has helped that effort. He once denounced Democrats who were “more focused on how President Bush took America into the war in Iraq” than on supporting the war’s progress.
At this moment, with a Republican president intent on drastically expanding his powers with the support of the Republican House and Senate, it is critical that the minority party serve as a responsible, but vigorous, watchdog. That does not require shrillness or absolutism. But this is no time for a man with Mr. Lieberman’s ability to command Republicans’ attention to become their enabler, and embrace a role as the president’s defender.
On the Armed Services Committee, Mr. Lieberman has left it to Republicans like Lindsey Graham of South Carolina to investigate the administration’s actions. In 2004, Mr. Lieberman praised Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for expressing regret about Abu Ghraib, then added: “I cannot help but say, however, that those who were responsible for killing 3,000 Americans on September 11th, 2001, never apologized.” To suggest even rhetorically that the American military could be held to the same standard of behavior as terrorists is outrageous, and a good example of how avidly the senator has adopted the Bush spin and helped the administration avoid accounting for Abu Ghraib.
Mr. Lieberman prides himself on being a legal thinker and a champion of civil liberties. But he appointed himself defender of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and the administration’s policy of holding hundreds of foreign citizens in prison without any due process. He seconded Mr. Gonzales’s sneering reference to the “quaint” provisions of the Geneva Conventions. He has shown no interest in prodding his Republican friends into investigating how the administration misled the nation about Iraq’s weapons. There is no use having a senator famous for getting along with Republicans if he never challenges them on issues of profound importance.
If Mr. Lieberman had once stood up and taken the lead in saying that there were some places a president had no right to take his country even during a time of war, neither he nor this page would be where we are today. But by suggesting that there is no principled space for that kind of opposition, he has forfeited his role as a conscience of his party, and has forfeited our support.
Mr. Lamont, a wealthy businessman from Greenwich, seems smart and moderate, and he showed spine in challenging the senator while other Democrats groused privately. He does not have his opponent’s grasp of policy yet. But this primary is not about Mr. Lieberman’s legislative record. Instead it has become a referendum on his warped version of bipartisanship, in which the never-ending war on terror becomes an excuse for silence and inaction. We endorse Ned Lamont in the Democratic primary for Senate in Connecticut.
Of course, the editors are right, at the end of the day this isn't about the "anti-war" canard, although I think that would be a perfectly sufficient reason to boot him anyway (as an aside, there's some weird Vietnam rhetoric being thrown around Connecticut over Lieberman-- the liberal, former hippie insurgency, Holy Joe who supports the war because he doesn't want it to become Vietnam (because the problem with that war was, what, liberal opposition?), Joe the dove and RFK supporter during Vietnam-- it's all very confusing).
Rather, it's about Joe being an enabler for the Republican party. Despite what he'd have us believe, he's not the only war supporter in the party (there's also a little known senator named Clinton, not to mention nearly every senator eyeing the White House in '08 has given La Guerre Iraq at least 6 more months, essentially taking it off the table for this election... because they're spineless), but he is the only one who implies that it's unpatriotic or seditious to criticize the president's Iraq policy. In this modern world, where as Digby notes, conservatives consider bipartisaniship "date rape" a la Norquist, guys like Lieberman are only exacerbating the problem. Atrios mentions a perfect example:
Not enough has been said recently about Lieberman's membership in the "gang of 14," a bipartisan group of Republcian bullies and Democratic losers. Basically the Democrats in this group endorsed the very important principle put forth by the Republicans that the Republicans had the right to cheat. The principled Democrats in the gang managed to get the very important compromise which basically got the Republicans to promise to not cheat as long as the Democrats didn't give them a reason to ever want to.
Back to the NYT. Electorally speaking, this is huge, not because it will flip a lot of support to Lamont (though it probably will edge a handful a people in that direction), but because the NYT is broadly considered a "center-left" bunch, and the editorial board is even center-right. It represents exactly the type of people that Joe Lieberman considers his "base," and that he's relying on to pull him through both the primary and the general.
It must be noted, however, that the Hartford Courant endorsed Lieberman over the weekend. One can infer, then, the moderates-- at least the principled and informed ones, though probably the "squishy center" as well-- are split on Lieberman. And in the primary at least, a split center = victory for Ned Lamont.
Though I'm still not sure I'd put my money on Lamont in November, this race is definitely not a longshot anymore. And in fact, Lieberman is now the underdog in the primary.
Trip out on that.