Lieberbulwark strikes again

Will the Connecticut senator please just go away?

By Thomas Schaller
December 14, 2009 8:23PM (UTC)
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Have you no shame, Senator?

I've already had it with Joe Lieberman, and yet he's done it again. This time with the health care bill. I feel like I've said this already many times before about Senator Sanctimony. The guy is truly pathological. And here's how that pathology works:


1. First, Lieberman positions himself as best as he can as the critical or swing vote. He does this, in his irritating nasal whine of his, by letting everyone know that his support or vote is going to be tough to secure, and will be secured if and only if all--not some or most--but all of his laundry list of preconditions is met. In that sense, he embodies the filibuster. The Senate, the nation, the world must screech to a halt to wait for Joe. He's just that important, folks. His assent is everything.

2. Second, he of course goes on national TV to play foil and foe to whatever his former Democratic colleagues are doing, as he did yesterday on Face the Nation--which has a double meaning because that's what Lieberman does, he gets right in the face of the nation. From Meet the Press to whatever Fox News program needs him to take semi-vieled shots at liberals, he gets all the face time he needs. On air, he pretends to be really pained to be raising his "concerns" or objections, but inside he's enjoying himself immensely.

3. Finally, he waits until the critical, all-eyes, all-in, all-important moment of the legislative or brokering process. (Apparently, that was some time around 5:30 p.m. Sunday.) He then figures out a way to raise some new objection so can he single-handedly hold a piece of legislation, a majority, or the national discourse hostage to his forever-aggrieved ego. If he has to reverse course or go back on his word, oh well. Too bad, nation: You just got Lieber-faced again.


Anyway, here's the key graph in the New York Times' report on the latest Lieberman leap from faith: "The bill’s supporters had said earlier that they thought they had secured Mr. Lieberman’s agreement to go along with a compromise they worked out to overcome an impasse within the Democratic Party."

Silly, silly Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and those Democratic leaders: they took Lieberman at his word? Seriously? There's a too-trite Charlie Brown football metaphor here I can't muster the energy to make. Sigh.

Health care expert Jon Cohn provides a good summary of the Lieberman defection:


Whatever Lieberman conveyed to Reid, and when, these latest statements make the prospects for including the Medicare buy-in awfully slim. And that's a shame.

The idea of opening up Medicare to older workers has real potential to make insurance more reliable while simultaneously reducing its price. At best, it is a chance to prove that a well-run public insurance plan can serve working-age Americans just as well as it has served the elderly--the basis, in other words, for a public plan into which someday many more Americans could enroll. At worst, it is an insurance alternative for millions of older workers that simply might appreciate the option.

Where on that spectrum the proposal falls depends entirely on the policy specifics, many of which are not yet public. Until the CBO produces its estimates, we can't know exactly how many people it would likely reach--or what it would likely cost, either to the taxpayers or those who might choose to buy it.

But Lieberman isn't waiting for CBO or anybody else to weigh in. He says he's worried that the Medicare buy-in would be the first step towards a single-payer system--and that it would bust the budget. (At least, that's his latest argument. As Steve Benen has noted, it's changed a few times.) Ergo, it doesn't have his support.

Lieberman wasn't always so skeptical about the Medicare buy-in. In fact, as a vice presidential candidate in 2000, he endorsed the idea. But that was before his bitter split with the Democratic Party--and the effort, widely supported by liberals, to unseat him in 2006.

The Washington Post's Ezra Klein, who has shined throughout this past year's health care discourse, puts it even more bluntly: "Reid could also try and find another compromise, but it's not clear there are many of those left," he writes. "And at this point, the underlying dynamic seems to be that Lieberman will destroy any compromise the left likes. That, in fact, seems to be the compromise: Lieberman will pass the bill if he can hurt liberals while doing so. From Lieberman's perspective, the compromise is killing the compromise." (Emphasis added)

Joe Lieberman's politics are the politics of penance, of extracting penalties to settle whatever score he's keeping in his head about the 2006 Ned Lamont primary challenge. He can't be pleased or appeased because the whole point of his agenda and his politics is to be in a permanent state of displeasure, obstinancy and outright revenge. He's done it again--and, of course, you can bet this will not be the last time.

Thomas Schaller

Thomas F. Schaller is professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the author of "Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South." Follow him @schaller67.

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