Sen. Joe Lieberman (right) accompanied Sen. John McCain (center) on a Middle East tour in March. Shown above, with Sen. Lindsey Graham, D.-S.C., they lay a wreath at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial’s Hall of Remembrance in Jerusalem on March 18. (Photo: Brian Hendler/JTA)
Sen. Joe Lieberman, the Senate’s only ‘Independent Democrat,’ Â will be on the podium when theÂ Republican National Convention convenes in St. Paul
By MORDECAI SPECKTOR
Back in April, Sen. Joe Lieberman expressed his willingness to speak on behalf of Sen. John McCain at the Republican National Convention.
“Because I feel this is such an important election, and I so strongly support John McCain as a candidate and crossed party lines to do so, I want to do everything I can to help him succeed,” Lieberman told the Hartford Courant.
Last week the Republicans took the Jewish senator from Connecticut up on his offer. He will address the Republicans gathered at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul on Monday, Sept. 1.
Lieberman is a puzzle, or simply anathema, for many in the Jewish community — a slice of the electorate that is overwhelmingly in the Democratic camp.
Embraced by American Jews when Al Gore chose him as his running mate in the 2000 presidential race — and when he was a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004 — Lieberman is now being mentioned for the vice-presidential spot on the Republican ticket in 2008.
Lieberman was reelected to the Senate, for his fourth term, in 2006 as an Independent, after losing the Connecticut Democratic primary to antiwar candidate Ned Lamont. He caucuses with the Senate Democrats; Lieberman’s defection to the GOP side would tip the balance of power in that body.
The AJW attempted to contact Lieberman, but he was out of the country last week on a fact-finding mission to war-torn Georgia, Ukraine and Poland; then he was away on vacation.
In a story last week on Lieberman’s strange political odyssey, the Boston Globe noted that the 66-year-old senator is “simultaneously courted and detested by members of both political parties.” His hawkish positions on the Iraq War and the aggressive prosecution of the war on terrorism put him at odds with the Democrats; his pro-choice position, and liberal economic and environmental views rub Republicans the wrong way.
Writing on National Review Online, the Web site of the conservative magazine, Jim Geraghty enumerated Lieberman’s economic positions that are at odds with conservative ideology.
For example, he pointed out that when running with Gore in 2000, Lieberman chastised the Bush administration’s tax cuts: “This is a question of priorities. Our opponents want to use America’s hard-earned surplus to give a tax break to those who need it least at the expense of all our other needs. Under their plan, the middle class gets a little… and the wealthy get a lot. Their tax plan operates under that old theory that the best way to feed the birds is to give more oats to the horse. We see the surplus through a different set of eyes, the eyes of working middleclass families.”
On the left, as the Boston Globe story pointed out, Lieberman’s apostasy prompted the creation of a new “Lieberman Must Go” Web site (www.liebermanmustgo.com), which has gotten 52,000 people to sign a petition seeking the Independent senator’s ouster from the Senate Democratic Caucus.
However, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, is on record opposing such a move. Reid depends on Lieberman’s crucial vote. Even taking a speaking role at the RNC in St. Paul apparently is not a sufficient reason for the Senate Democrats to oust Lieberman and strip him of the chairmanship of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
“Sen. Lieberman can speak to whatever group he wants, but it’s not going to change the fact that John McCain is a flawed candidate who is wrong on every issue facing the country,” Jim Manley, Reid’s spokesman, told the Hartford Courant last week.
Lieberman, in fact, has staked out one of the most militant positions of any senator, either Democrat or Republican, on the Iraq War — and on the danger posed by an Iranian regime intent on acquiring nuclear weapons.
He decries the Democratic Party for retreating from its traditionally strong stance on national defense. In a May 18 address at a dinner hosted by Commentary magazine, which was adapted as an op-ed article in the Wall Street Journal, Lieberman accused his then-Democratic colleagues of deserting the Bush administration’s war on terror after Sept. 11, 2001.
He said, that “when total victory did not come quickly in Iraq, the old voices of partisanship and peace at any price saw an opportunity to reassert themselves. By considering centrism to be collaboration with the enemy — not bin Laden, but Mr. Bush — activists have successfully pulled the Democratic Party further to the left than it has been at any point in the last 20 years.
“Far too many Democratic leaders have kowtowed to these opinions rather than challenging them. That unfortunately includes Barack Obama, who, contrary to his rhetorical invocations of bipartisan change, has not been willing to stand up to his party’s left wing on a single significant national security or international economic issue in this campaign.”
The charge against Obama was renewed in late June, when Lieberman appeared on Face the Nation. He told host Bob Schieffer that Obama and other senators had called for a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq and opposed Bush’s “surge,” the insertion of 30,000 more U.S. soldiers.
“It’s now working,” Lieberman said. “If we had done what Senator Obama asked us to do for the last couple of years, today Iran and al-Qaida would be in control of Iraq. It would be a terrible defeat for us and our allies in the Middle East and throughout the world. Instead, we’ve got a country that’s defending itself, that’s growing economically, where there’s been genuine political reconciliation, and where Iran and al-Qaida are on the run. And that’s the way it ought to be.”
In January, Lieberman campaigned for McCain in Florida, a state that’s considered critical in the Electoral College balloting. JTA said that Lieberman “has emerged as the campaign’s de facto emissary to the Jews” (1.25.08 AJW).
In his talks with Florida Jewish groups, Lieberman sounded the theme that the U.S. needed a president who will be ready to be the commander-in-chief “from day one, a president who won’t need any on-the-job training. John McCain is that candidate and will be that president.”
After the political conventions, when the presidential race gets serious, Lieberman likely will retrace his steps in Florida and other battleground states on behalf of McCain.
Beyond his speech at the RNC on Sept. 1, there is speculation that the Senate Democrats will show Lieberman the caucus room door, if they pick up additional seats in the November election, making their maverick colleague expendable. If the election goes in the other direction, commentators suggest that Lieberman — if he’s not the vice-presidential candidate — will be given an important national security position.
Lieberman knows that he will further aggravate the anger of Senate Democrats when he steps up to the podium at the Xcel Energy Center next week. As he told the Hartford Courant, “A lot of Democrats are not happy. I just hope they understand why I’m doing it.”