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Joe Lieberman's Loyalties

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This isn't the first time Joe Lieberman's placed loyalty to his career above all other allegiances.

Afraid that Connecticut's Democratic voters will reject him in the primary, he's now hedging his bets by planning to run as an independent if he loses. "I have loyalties that are greater than those to my party," he says, and tries to make this sound noble.

Lieberman made a similar choice in the 2000 election. He hedged his bets then as well, by running for reelection as Connecticut Senator while also running for Vice President. It sent a great message of confidence for the ticket he was part of, but worse yet, had Gore won (as he would have without the Florida machinations), Lieberman would have had to resign his Senate seat, and be replaced by a Republican appointed by Republican Governor John Rowland. Given that the Senate ended up split 50/50 (until Senator Jeffords left the Republican party), this would have brought about a major political loss. But none of that mattered to Joe. His prime loyalty has always been to himself, from the first time he defeated moderate Republican Lowell Weickert with money from William F. Buckley and from rightwing Cuban exiles.

Of course, Lieberman's been looking more and more like a Bush-Cheney Republican as he defends one after another of the administration's positions. There's no clean solution to their disaster in Iraq. But while we can argue different approaches for withdrawal, Lieberman not only backed the war initially, but also continues to give Bush political cover on it, denying the magnitude of the disaster and attacking the patriotism and judgment of any who'd question our occupation. Although he's taken a few decent stands on labor and environmental issues, and that matters, each time he gives Bush political cover on his most vulnerable issues, he makes it harder to oppose him on all other questions Lieberman's self-created role as political enforcer has a long heritage.

Eleven years ago, Lieberman joined Lynne Cheney in co-founding the American Council of Trustees and Alumni. Their purpose was to attack dissident educators, setting themselves up as cultural commissars who took on the right to decide what was and wasn't appropriate patriotism when educators explored key public issues. Their approach would have fit well in Communist East Germany, but seemed strangely out of place in a democracy, and Lieberman's never disassociated himself from it.

Of course Bush might not be even president had Lieberman not hamstrung Gore by arguing against demanding a full recount of the Florida ballots. Or if he'd held Dick Cheney even slightly accountable in their Vice Presidential debate for stands like opposing the freeing of Nelson Mandela from a South African prison, instead of cozying up to him in a fawning love fest. Maybe it was predictable that he'd support Bush's regressive energy bill, tax plans, and judicial nominations.

Lieberman has already gotten endorsement from Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter and financial backing from major Republican lobbyists. He's already suggested that hospitals should have the right to refuse emergency contraception to rape victims, and force them to go elsewhere in the middle of the night.

Maybe he should just drop the pretense and run as a Bush-Cheney Republican without any further evasions.
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Paul Rogat Loeb is the author of Soul of a Citizen: Living with Conviction in a Cynical Time, and The Impossible Will Take a Little While: A Citizen's Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear,winner of the 2005 Nautilus Award for the best book on social change. See (more...)
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