The Case for Waterboarding (AKA The Cup of Joe is in the Vessel with the Pestle)
A very compelling read is to be had examining an article posted by James Kirchick yesterday on the on-line edition of the New Republic entitled “Let Lieberman Live” and subtitled “The case for allowing him to keep his committee chairmanship.”
Kirchik’s article is smart, well argued and neatly sums up Lieberman’s case. Speaking from my perspective as a pragmatic, centrist, Clintonite, neo-liberal, new Democrat with closet DLC tendencies, who’s crazy about Rahm Emanuel, I have to say that Kirchick is dead wrong.
First, the idea is not to deprive Lieberman of life; the idea is to respond to his actions in a proportionate matter (hence the title).
Much of Kirchick’s case is familiar, “…a political party that seeks to represent a broad swathe of the country should be able to accommodate someone (even a committee chairman) who holds slightly divergent views from the congressional leadership… Obama seems to understand that kowtowing to his party's left flank is not what the American people expected when they elected him president. Though it may be tempting to dump Lieberman now that he needs the Democrats more than they need him, doing so wouldn't put an end to ‘the partisanship and pettiness and immaturity’ that Obama criticized in his victory speech last week. It would instead suggest that Democrats haven't learned a thing about what's currently rending the GOP apart.”I should add that part of the reason Kirchick’s argument concerning Lieberman is so familiar is that I’ve made it myself, back when Lieberman was being primaried by Ned Lamont: “The ‘What have you done for me, lately?’ analysis would be enough for me …were I not afraid that all nuance will get lost, and that a Lieberman defeat will send exactly the wrong message to thoughtful Democratic pols. Is this another good reason to hate the sanctimonious bastard?”Subsequently, I argued that Lieberman’s defeat should not be taken as a repudiation of “Clinton Democrats“ in favor of the “Michael Moore” wing of the party,and while I supported the victorious Ned Lamont as the party nominee, I argued that a race between two candidates both pledged to vote with the Democrats to organize the Senate was not one worth lost sleep or expended resources. When Lieberman won the race and suddenly held the fate of the Senate in his hands, I felt quite vindicated in my calls that Lieberman not be punished by the party for daring not to abide with the results of the primary.
Like Kirchick, I am still strongly of the belief that not being careful in addressing the fate of Senator Lieberman risks sending exactly the wrong message. My problem with Kirchick is disagreement over what message we are sending.
But before, we get to that, I should note that Kirchick also makes a strategic argument which also requires repudiation.
The strategic argument is that Democrats need Joe Lieberman’s vote to get to a filibuster-proof sixty seats in the Senate. This argument hinges upon the idea that God will intervene and ensure victories in two come from behind recounts AND give Democrats a run-off Senate victory in a state (Georgia) which Obama lost by five points, and in which the Republican was edged out of a majority only because of Bob Barr’s coat tails.
I’m not saying the hat trick is impossible, and I see no alternative but to go for it all-out. A defeat in Georgia is going to be read as a mild rebuke to Obama whether or not he expends any resources upon it, so he might as well give it a college try, but one should not deprive oneself of oxygen waiting to exhale over the results.
Whether getting to sixty seats is really desirable is another matter, since not doing so offers a handy excuse for not achieving all-out policy victory (which might not be attainable anyway), but the symbolic value of such an achievement is not to be gainsaid.
Just as long as one understands that symbolic value is all you’re getting.
Sparing Joe Lieberman does not ensure getting his vote in the next Congress, anymore that it ensured getting his vote in the last one. Nor does it ensure the votes of the two Senators Nelson, or any of the dozen other Senate Democrats (along with others newly elected) with party loyalty scores less than that of Joe Lieberman (or even the votes of all those with better loyalty scores).
One does not easily herd the felines and felons who comprise the world’s most exclusive gentlemen’s and ladies’ club.
My guess is that the Dems have Joe Lieberman’s vote for cloture, barring some fairly certain outbreaks of petulance, pretty much as often when he’s without their tent as when he’s within it. Sixty is not a magic number, and on many issues can be obtained through the likes of Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins and Arlen Specter (and when it can’t, probably won’t be attained through Lieberman either).
Even a deal with Lieberman will not ensure his loyalty. When has it ever? It’s not that Joe has a higher loyalty to his principles; it’s that he has a higher loyalty to the principal.
After taking the Democratic nomination for Veep back in 2000, Lieberman refused to step down as Democratic candidate for US Senate from Connecticut. Yes, so did Joe Biden (and LBJ in 1960). But Delaware (and 1960 Texas) has a Democratic Governor; 2000 Connecticut had a Republican. The likely Democrat to be substituted for Lieberman was wildly popular and virtually certain to hold his seat. The Senate ended up tied 50/50; if Lieberman had been allowed to take office as Vice President, Lieberman’s refusal to step aside would have led to an unnecessary Republican control of the Senate. Luckily, we were spared from that ignominy by the Supreme Court.
Likewise, Lieberman’s 2006 race for re-election is also instructive.
Faced with a challenger assailing his credentials as a real Democrat, Lieberman not only surrounded himself with endorsements from liberal groups, but with liberal pols, bringing in such worthies as Barack Obama to vouch for his credentials. In Obama’s case, this entailed some risk, as his future national prospects depended in large part in attracting support from the party’s left end, which was rallying to the side of Lieberman’s opponent. Nonetheless, the establishment of the Democratic Party closed ranks behind Joe Lieberman in his hour of need. Even those he’d pissed upon, not ideologically, but (far more importantly) personally, like the Clintons (whose Lieberman golden shower was memorialized in Philip Roth‘s “The Human Stain“), rallied to his side.
But Lieberman expected more. Having lost the Democratic primary, Lieberman’s level of self-absorption, remarkable even among politicos, led him to expect the same support among his colleagues once he lost the party nomination.
It took a few minutes for Joe’s colleagues to absorb the shock of Joe’s loss--since if one of the number could lose a primary, their own immunity might also be suspect. However, they also understood and embraced the concept that those who won a party primary had the right to expect party support---after, they’d all won primaries, and they themselves expected such support. Confronted about it, DSCC chair Chuck Schumer looked as if he’d been sucker-punched, and at first equivocated, but when push comes to shove, it's hard for the head of DSCC to say anything but that DSCC will support the Democratic candidate; others followed suit.
Somehow Lieberman was shocked. Really.
Nonetheless, all through his ensuing campaign as a independent, Lieberman ensured his constituents that he was a good Democrat, with Democratic ideas, who’d vote and behave as a loyal, albeit somewhat independent, Democrat. The party left called for Lieberman’s head, asking for immediate punishment, but it wasn’t as if Lieberman was trying to elect any Republicans, so cooler heads prevailed. Democrats forgave Lieberman.
But Lieberman never forgave the Democrats, and while he did conference with them, and graciously accepted the Committee Chairmanship which was his rightful reward for ensuring their majority, he pointedly called himself an “Independent”, even though he’d implied to voters he’d do otherwise. And more and more, Lieberman became an apologist for the administration of George Dubya, and not necessarily only on issues of defense and foreign policy.
When it became clear that Lieberman would pay back the support he’d gotten from Clinton and Obama (and his fellow Connecticut Dem, Chris Dodd) by preemptively endorsing John McCain, he apparently gave Sen Dem Leader Harry Ried assurances, which soon stacked up like a veritable trail of broken treaties.
Lieberman not only endorsed McCain (Dayenu!), and campaigned with him (Dayenu!), and spoke at the Republican convention (Dayenu!) and attacked the Democratic nominee (Dayenu!), but the attacks went beyond issues into attacks on the candidate’s patriotism (Dayenu!) and finally descended into sheer lunacy (implications that Obama was a Marxist--GENUG!).
So I’m not sure that any deal with Lieberman means very much--therefore, let us put aside strategy and deal with Kirchick’s main thrust; that punishing Lieberman “would send the wrong message to the country, needlessly divide the Democratic Party, and betray the principles Barack Obama stressed so eloquently in his campaign….Just because the Republican brand has lost some its luster doesn't mean that the Democratic Party now has the leverage to excommunicate its centrists. For the past 40 years, the Democratic Party has been most successful when it has governed from the center--when it has governed at all. Its 2006 congressional takeover…wouldn't have happened if the party didn't run centrist and conservative Democrats in traditionally red states. Were the Democrats to punish their former vice presidential nominee, it could weaken the position of these legislators by making the party seem too liberal and intolerant of moderates. Leaving Lieberman alone would allow the Democrats to one-up the GOP by showing that they're the ones who believe in a big tent philosophy, as opposed to the small-minded, petty Republicans.”
The problem is that Kirchick misses the point. As he points out (and I’ve already noted), Lieberman’s voting record has a higher party loyalty percentage (calculated from votes where the majority of Republicans line up against the majority of Democrats) than 14 other Senate Democrats. I further note that, thanks to Chuck Schumer efforts at DSCC, this number will likely grow, and I, for one, rejoice in it.
We do not want to “excommunicate” our centrists; we do not want to “weaken” them; we want to grow them, and we have. We want a big tent.
If this was about punishing Lieberman for being a centrist, I would oppose it, just as I opposed denying centrist Democrat Jane Harman the Chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee (although in fairness, to Nancy Pelosi, that fight was more about petty personal politics than iit was about ideolgical purity).
But, the idea of punishing Lieberman has nothing to do with Lieberman's voting record.
It has to do with his conduct.
It may be the prerogative of President-Elect Obama to forgive Senator Lieberman his trespasses against Senator Obama, but I don‘t think Obama‘s position really is so cut and dried . Obama says he‘d like Lieberman to stay in the Senate Democratic Conference. So what? I‘d like Lieberman to stay in the Senate Democratic Conference; except for some nuts in the netroots, there seems little argument over whether we’d like Lieberman to stay; the only question is what price we are willing to pay to keep him.
And, with all due respect to the President-Elect, I’m not sure that the matter of what the Senate Dems do with Joe Lieberman is Obama’s business--whatever Obama’s position. With all due respect, the President-Elect gave up his membership in the Senate Democratic Conference this week, and is not coming back in the foreseeable future. This holds true regardless of the President-Elect’s position. An Obama position against Lieberman is just as irrelevant as is one for him.
Anyway, while Obama’s willingness to forgo vengeance concerning Lieberman’s trespasses against Obama may well qualify as persuasive authority; they are absolutely irrelevant to the issue of the Senate Democrats’ willingness to forgo vengeance for Lieberman’s trespasses against the Senate Democrats--trespasses by which more conservative members such as Ben and Bill Nelson have been just as victimized as Bernie Sanders.
Committee Chairmanships are not an entitlement. They go to members of the Majority Party only because that Party has the Majority. That Party has the right to bestow them as they see fit. Seniority, like primogeniture and the divine rights of royal families, is justified mostly because it saves an awful lot of time and inconvenience, but in recent decades, seniority has not always been decisive and other factors are given their due. Come next Congress, 91 year old Robert Byrd will not be allowed to Chair the Senate Committee on Appropriations.
The Chairmanships bestowed by the Majority only come because of that Party’s success in winning elections; likewise the proportion of desirable committee assignments a Majority Party can bestow upon its membership is proportionate to the margin the Party holds. As such, foremost among the factors a Majority Party may want to consider in awarding Chairmanships and Committee seats are the efforts made on behalf of obtaining and maintaining that Majority by the Senators up for consideration for those posts.
On this measure, Senator Lieberman is severely lacking.
In Maine, Republican Susan Collins brushed back a challenge from a strong Democrat, Congressman Tom Allen, with the help of Joe Lieberman, whose campaign committee contributed to hers.
In Minnesota, Republican Norm Coleman, currently hanging on by his fingernails against neo-liberal Democrat Al Franken (enough of a Lieberman admirer that his book, "Why Not Me," proposed Lieberman for Vice President a year before Al Gore did, and said Lieberman would make one of our greatest Presidents) was immeasurably aided by an Op Ed penned by Lieberman defending Coleman’s woeful record (To be fair, Franken has no cause for complaint, because Lieberman has treated him with exactly the same level of love he bestows upon all of his friends).
Getting to sixty important? Before the election, Lieberman gave an interview where he portrayed this prospect as something akin to a great national nightmare, thereby helping to injure the prospects of Democratic Senate candidates across the country, including those of the party‘s candidate in the Georgia runoff.
Is it any wonder that DSCC Chair Chuck Schumer, the man responsible for proudly stocking the Senate’s Democratic Conference with members who vote more conservatively than Joe Lieberman, is aggressively working behind the scenes to ensure that Lieberman is punished?
Would I feel differently if Lieberman held the balance of power? Of course I would. The idea is not to say to the perpetrator “this is going to hurt me more than it hurts you.” In fact, the idea is to prevent such occurrences in the future .
New York provides an illustrative example.
In 2002, a Brooklyn State Senator named Carl Kruger worked against an incumbent Democrat from his neighboring district to help elect a Republican.
The Democrats did not hold a majority in the Senate, so punishing Kruger would have been of little consequence. The Senate Dem Leader, Marty Connor, openly declared he was going to have Kruger thrown out of the conference, and dis-enrolled as a Democrat (a procedure available under New York law). While Kruger was and is strong enough to win a Democratic Primary in his district; he is not strong enough to win re-election without the Democratic line dis-enrollment would deny him.
But, an internal Democratic Party leadership fight allowed Kruger to provide the decisive vote for Connor’s ouster, and as part of the deal for his support, Kruger was allowed to survive.
Now Kruger has become the gift that keeps on giving. The Democrats have taken the Majority, but Kruger has organized a small claque of three dissident Democrats which holds the Senate’s balance of power. Now the Democrats can’t afford to punish Kruger, and, because the vote to organize the Senate is legally protected legislative business, they can’t even use a vote to organize on behalf of the Republicans as a reason to dis-enroll him (such precedent having been established in a case involving Pedro Espada, one of Kruger’s co-conspirators).
If the Sen Dems had only gotten rid of Kruger in 2002, he’d not only be gone, but his ouster would have served as a strong disincentive to the sort of circuses we see unfolding today.
But the New York Senate Dems blew it when they had the opportunity, and now they are paying the price.
Except for the possibly unobtainable, and probably useless, talisman of 60, there is little consequence to be paid for giving Joe Lieberman a well deserved potch in the tuchis.
Kirchuck is correct when he says that punishing Lieberman would send a message; he‘s just wrong about the message it would send. The message Lieberman’s punishment would send is that when someone needs a potch in the tuchis, it is not the time to turn the other cheek.
In the hopes of keeping Lieberman in their Conference, it would not be unreasonable for the Senate Dems to let Lieberman Chair some commitee and/or retain his seat on (but not Chairmanship of) Homeland Security; likewise, keeping such punishment not overly severe would make more credible the assertions that the Conference's actions were in retribution for political disloyalty rather than for political incorrectness (in fact, publicly supporting punishment for Lieberman is the best thing moderate Democrats can do to combat this perception).
But, in the end, Lieberman must be punished, and the punishment must be public, and severe enough to make clear that disloyal actions have painful consequences; to not do so would only invite more of the same.
But, you may ask, wouldn't that be depriving Lieberman of a job simply because he stood up for what he believed in?
Perhaps. But "depriving a person of his job simply because he stood up for what he believed in" strikes me as a pretty good definition of democracy.
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