Things that don't exist in Harry Reid's world

The Democratic Senate leader continually claims that Joe Lieberman "votes with us on everything except the war." What about eavesdropping, habeas corpus, telecom amnesty and torture?

By Glenn Greenwald
May 6, 2008 1:28PM (UTC)
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(updated below - Update II)

Harry Reid was on The Daily Show last night (to promote his book, ironically entitled The Good Fight) and said that Joe Lieberman "supports us on virtually everything except the war." This is exactly what Reid has said repeatedly about Lieberman ("Joe Lieberman is my friend, and he is a good Democrat, votes with us on everything, except the war. So Joe Lieberman is easy to work with"). Two weeks ago, a NYT article on Lieberman quoted Reid praising him and then immediately added:

A member of the Senate Democratic leadership, who insisted on not being identified, said: "The bloggers want us to get rid of him. It ain't happening." He added: "We need every vote. He's with us on everything but the war."

Leave aside the insulting absurdity of talking about "the war" as though it's just one garden-variety political issue out of many. And also leave aside that Lieberman happens also not to be "voting with the Democrats" on the small matter of the presidential election. Beyond that, this claim that Lieberman votes with Democrats "on everything but the war" -- made repeatedly by Reid [and two weeks ago in the NYT by "a member of the Senate Democratic leadership" too scared to be quoted (if it's not Reid)] -- is a total falsehood, but nonetheless quite revealing about how the Senate Democratic leadership thinks.

Here are some non-war votes from Lieberman since the Democrats took over Congress in 2006:

Bill to ban the CIA from using waterboarding:


Democrats -- 45-1

Republicans - 5-46

Lieberman- NAY

Cloture vote on bill to restore habeas corpus (which Lieberman voted to abolish in 2006):

Democrats - 50-0

Republicans - 5-42

Lieberman - NAY

Vote to strip retroactive amnesty for telecoms out of the FISA bill (h/t Matt Browner-Hamlin):


Democrats -- 31-16

Republicans - 0-48

Lieberman - NAY

Vote to specify that FISA is the "exclusive means" by which the President can spy on telephone and email communications:

Democrats -- 49-1

Republicans - 9-40

Lieberman - NAY

Confirmation of Michael Mukasey as Attorney General:


Democrats -- 6-40

Republicans - 47-0

Lieberman - YEA

Cloture vote to proceed to consideration of No-Confidence Resolution for Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General:

Democrats -- 47-0

Republicans - 6-37

Lieberman - NAY

Obviously, Reid's repeated claim that Lieberman "votes with us on everything, except the war" is demonstrably false. But when he repeatedly makes that claim, I don't think Reid is consciously lying. It's just that, in Harry Reid's world (and in the world of the Democratic leadership generally), things like warrantless eavesdropping, the abolition of habeas corpus, telecom amnesty, the corrupt politicization of the Justice Department, chronic lying under oath, and the legalization of torture just don't exist. They don't matter. They're non-issues. And that is precisely why those radical, destructive measures are continuously permitted -- approved and endorsed -- by the Reid-led, Democratic-controlled Senate.

UPDATE: Several commenters and emailers, including Paul Dirks, argue that Reid views all of the above-listed issues as being part of "the war," broadly defined. Maybe. But if Reid and his comrades actually embrace the rhetorical deceit that things like the abolition of habeas corpus, warrantless eavesdropping, telecom amnesty, torture and Alberto Gonzales' behavior are all part of "the war" -- whatever that might mean -- then (a) that's even worse than the explanations I offered and (b) it makes the statement that Lieberman "votes with us on everything, except the war" all the more misleading and/or meaningless, since "the war" defined that way encompasses most matters of significance.

UPDATE II: Via email, a reader makes a critical point:

I have yet to hear a single Democrat articulate a strategy on this that at all takes into account the reality that, in just about four months, Lieberman is going to speak to the full Republican National Convention and millions of TV viewers in prime time and rip our Marixst, terrorist, elitist Presidential candidate to shreds with a sorrowful lament that the Democratic Party has long left sensible, moderate Americans like him - and John McCain - behind.

What will the story be on September 4th 2008, the morning after Lieberman's speech, and the day of McCain's acceptance? And how is leadership working to frame this now?

The strategy appears to be to have Harry Reid run around talking about what a great guy Joe Lieberman is, what a solid, centrist and loyal Democrat he is, how easy he is to work with. That's brilliant. The reader goes on to note:

To compare, this was how Reid and Durbin reacted to Zell [Miller] four years ago - to ignore him. That worked well. And their response then seems absolutely draconian compared to their current stance towards Joe:
Roll Call

September 8, 2004 Wednesday

Carter Fires Back At Miller Speech

BYLINE: By Mark Preston and Paul Kane ROLL CALL STAFF

Senate Democratic leaders said there were no plans to penalize Miller for his disloyalty, such as stripping him of his committee assignments.

"Why should we?" asked Minority Whip Harry Reid (D-Nev.). "It is a free country. He's irrelevant to the Caucus." . . . "I don't think that anyone here feels that there is anything to be gained" from retribution, said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). "He checked out of our Caucus so long ago that only the press considers him a Democrat."

As DanJoaquinOz notes in comments, Lieberman is already saying things about Obama like this -- on Fox News: "I'd hesitate (!) to say he's a Marxist, but his views are far to the left of mine and I think mainstream America's." Yet Harry Reid and the rest of the Democratic leadership run around defending Lieberman -- one of the most extremist politicians in America -- and building up his credentials as a solid, mainstream Democrat, ensuring that the painfully predictable punch he delivers at the Republican Convention lands that much more potently. Reid, as always, sure is fighting The Good Fight.

Glenn Greenwald

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