The betrayal of Joe Lieberman

Is he the victim of a "hate machine," or a politician on the wrong side of too many votes?

Published July 17, 2006 12:50PM (EDT)

For Lanny Davis, it's a product of "the demonizing, hating, virulent, character-assassinating left of the Democratic Party." For John McCain, it's a "a terrible commentary on the state of politics and the political climate today." And for Joe Lieberman himself, it's about "fair-weather friends" and a "culture of partisan poison."

Here's a question: Is it possible -- possible -- to want to see Lieberman replaced in the Senate without being some kind of hate-mongering, extremist ingrate?

And here's an answer: Apparently not, at least if Lieberman and his supporters are to be believed.

Mark Leibovich checked in on the Joe Lieberman-Ned Lamont race for the Times over the weekend, and his piece left us with the idea that Lieberman and his backers have a fundamentally different view of the politician-constituent relationship than we do. In Joe World, constituents elect a politician, and then the constituents owe the politician a duty of loyalty. If they turn against him -- no matter how many times he has voted against their interests or desires -- well, then, they're the ones who have betrayed him, not the other way around.

In our world, things work a little differently. We think that a politician owes a duty of loyalty to the constituents who put him or her in office. And if, time and again, that politician votes in ways that run counter to the interests or desires of the constituents, there's nothing even a little bit wrong with their deciding to replace him or her with something they hope will represent them better.

Is there some vitriol aimed in the direction of the junior senator from Connecticut? Sure. But there's nothing sinister or unduly personal about opposing Lieberman on the merits. Yes, Lieberman has voted with the left end of the Democratic Party on all sorts of things. But in the past couple of years alone, he has also voted in favor of the confirmation of John G. Roberts, Alberto Gonzales and Condoleezza Rice, against a filibuster of Samuel Alito and in favor of George W. Bush's energy bill. And he has offered virtually unwavering support for a war most Americans -- and a giant majority of Democrats -- believe was a mistake, is being handled badly and should end sooner rather than later.

So, a "hate machine"? Davis can call it that if he likes. But if Lieberman wants to talk about having the "courage of his convictions," perhaps he should order his surrogates to stop attacking his critics and start standing up for his votes instead. Tell the constituents why they're better off with Roberts and Alito on the Supreme Court, with Condi Rice at the State Department and with U.S. troops bogged down in Iraq.

Oh, and when the New York Times asks you why you canceled a campaign stop at a Puerto Rican festival? If you want to be known as a man of "principle," don't ever say: "Don't make too much of it. Or blame it on my staff."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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