On a wistful bleak wintry week when John F. Kennedy's inaugural 50 years ago was celebrated with ceremonies and concerts of remembrance and Sargent Shriver's death was greeted with a genuine outpouring of grief and love, a third man seemed to suggest he belonged in that august company.
No, Joe, I don't think so.
It takes chutzpah to compare oneself with Jack Kennedy, but Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman is no stranger to that department. In announcing he would not run for another term in 2012 (after occupying the seat since 1988), he called himself a barrier-breaking candidate, presumably because he is Jewish. There are several Jews in the U.S. Senate, including Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan, and the two Democratic women from California. So is Senator Russell Feingold the Wisconsin Democrat who lost in 2010. [See where Joe Lieberman gets his campaign funds.]
Lieberman did not confront the real reason he is leaving: according to the writing on the wall, there's no way he can win after changing parties (from Democrat to independent) and making too many people mad over the years. He lost the Democratic primary in 2006 for his astonishing support for the war in Iraq, which to this day he refuses to regret. He even had the nerve to assert this week that Saddam Hussein was on the brink of developing weapons of mass destruction. He won re-election as an independent and went on to brazenly support Republican John McCain, a close friend in the Senate, for president. He also single-handedly took the public option off the table in talks prior to passing the healthcare reform act. [See editorial cartoons about the Democrats.]
Pretty nice! This is all public record and fodder for columnists. Three things to add: first, the pious speech he gave on the Senate floor calling for President Clinton to be "censured" running up to the impeachment trial. The media loved him for that and ever after said he was the "first" Senate Democrat (which he was at the time) to break with and publicly criticize the besieged Clinton. Actually, to get it right, he was the first and only. The only Senate Democrat to seize the opportunity to shine when Clinton needed every friend he had. Nobody in his party thanked him for that, even though David Brooks of The New York Times insists in defense that he "popped the boil."
Secondly, does anyone remember the turning point on Meet the Press in the hanging-chad election of 2000? Military absentee ballots coming in late was a major issue in contention and when the late Tim Russert asked vice presidential nominee Lieberman about that on the air, he seemed to forget which side he was on. In a huge concession in the crucial battle of public opinion, Lieberman gave up his running mate Al Gore's ground on the issue.
Finally, once upon a time when I worked as a speechwriter for the senator, the author Michael Lewis published a few lines that displeased the senator's chief of staff--because it was a cutting comment on his own publicized departure to become a lobbyist. Caught in the middle because Lewis and I were an item, I lost my job in a matter of days. Let's just say he did not impress me as a mensch.
When Lieberman recently mocked Arianna Huffington in an on-air exchange on Iraq, calling her "sweetheart," I had a moment of recognition.
Yep, that's the cup of Joe I know.
And the public will soon meet a new side, too, a Joe that's not running for office. But there's something none can take away from Lieberman: leading the repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy. In 22 years as a senator, he finally did something worthy for the nation's common good. [See a round-up of editorial cartoons about gays in the military.]
Yet still we won't be sorry to see you go, Joe.