Remember that friend I mentioned from the Richard Blumenthal post a few days ago, well, she’s back. She is my classmate in law school and we have an on-going argument/discussion/debate regarding Senator Joe Lieberman, the now Senior Senator from CT. Let me put her thoughts of him in a little context. As a former staffer for Senator Harry Reid and a self-proclaimed progressive liberal, she has considerable distaste for Senator Lieberman. In her mind, as with most party-Dems, he represents the self-serving, pettiness that simply derails the party’s agenda at every turn. I believe the phrase “holding the Senate hostage” was even used a few times. And I get this. There’s a tension between Lieberman doing what he thinks is right, for the right reasons and hiding behind that defense when simply exploiting both parties for his personal ends. Some might say that’s good politics, but it’s not really how we prefer our representatives behave.
On the other hand, I always saw Senator Lieberman as a Senator willing to say what was on his mind and present his beliefs without regard for who it might offend or where those beliefs fell on the political spectrum. I thought he supported Senator McCain because he believe that was the best choice for America and he didn’t allow party loyalty as the only measure of who he would publicly support. Obviously, it’s hard to tell because we’re not inside the Senator’s head and we don’t know his true motivations. Still, I never liked the idea that a Democratic Senator could not be pro-national defense or could not support his preferred candidate for president simply because party leadership didn’t agree.
My friend would say that the Senators are allowed to have their issues, those issues that they believe it and sponsor, which do not have to be in-line with Senator Reid’s agenda. The difference is those personal issues where the Senators can vote against the party must be limited or reigned in to a few. According to her, Senator Lieberman took advantage of his moderate position making each vote and each issue about him. He didn’t “play ball” as they say when the vote was on an issue that didn’t concern his personal agenda.
My retort has always been that as soon as the Dems supported another candidate in CT (Ned Lamont) and hung Lieberman out to dry- all bets were off. He was re-elected as an Independent and now has the leverage of the people to be as much of a team-player or roadblock as he’d like.
Yet, this morning I read an article on Senator Lieberman today that lends significant evidence to my friend’s opinion of him. * DISCLAIMER – at the risk of seeming to blindly support POLITICO.com articles, I do read other sites, but it’s often easiest to find an article about any political issue big or small on POLITICO and thus, lately I’ve been directly you there. *
This article lays out the relationship Lieberman has with both candidates quite nicely but essentially confirms that Lieberman is not saying anything of significance, he is simply building his endorse up for the day when it may ultimately come. In my reading of it, it came across as a selfish and petty attempt to make his endorsement seem like a big deal when in reality it probably isn’t. Although I did think it was interesting that you could feel the sarcasm and spite in Senator Reid’s comments much the way my friend describes Lieberman’s decisions in our conversations.
For me, this is the perfect way to focus on the difficult position many politicians finds themselves.
What is a candidate supposed to do when they find themselves at odds with the party that helped elect them? Or better yet, when considering a campaign for national office, i.e. House, Senate or Presidency, if a candidate is forced to choose a party for money, support, organization, etc., what if neither party fits? Another question I often wrestle with is what responsibility does a candidate or elected official have to their party?
My friend has often said that voters had a certain expectation that Senator Lieberman would support the Democratic party in addition to his campaign issues and by not doing that, once elected, he was violating a public trust. This also makes sense to me. On the other hand, most voters are keenly aware (or should be) that we’ve voting for a person who we’re trusting to make the best subjective decision they can for their constituents and more broadly, this country. If the party leadership starts changing or is not protecting a state or district’s interests, the representative must buck the system, right?
I think in the smaller context of Senator Lieberman, this is a tough one to answer because so many complex factors have combined in his specific circumstances. I tend to believe the truth is probably somewhere between my friend’s view of his selfish motivations and my interest in his stanch independent streak.
In the larger, abstract context of a future candidate who may face a battle between an organized party and bifurcated political views, this can be a major obstacle to becoming involved in politics. An obstacle I look forward addressing in future posts and perhaps my career, even if I’m wrong sometimes.
As for the Lieberman endorsement, I guess we’ll have to continue holding our collective breathe for the generous Senator’s blessing.