Senator Lieberman’s descent into political isolation will come after the election if the Democrats have at least 52 seats, no matter who is President. Lieberman has to pay a political price in the Senate for his endorsement of John McCain for President.
As a participant in successful efforts to strip House Democrats who supported Goldwater in 1964 of seniority, and strip three unfair and arbritrary Committee Chairmen of their posts after the House Democratic landslide in 1974 (post-Watergate), I can attest to the precise reasons for stripping legislators of their chairmanships and seniority.
Lieberman’s views on the Iraq war and his Iran bellicosity are not reasons. Even his outrageous connection with Reverend Hagee does not per se sink Lieberman. Even McCain rejected Hagee’s endorsement after his anti-Catholic comments. Hagee’s tepid apology to Catholics does not reduce the virulence of his essential bigotry. Lieberman’s occassional liberalism (pro-choice, opposition to Alito’s confirmation, his leadership on global warming and DC’s rights to vote and to representation in the House) do not mitigate his actions in support of McCain for President.
Where Lieberman has reached the point of no return is his endorsement of McCain for President. This alone puts Lieberman over the line. His active campaigning for McCain serves to emphasize Lieberman’s endorsement. To speak at the Republican convention serves to remind the rest of us that Lieberman will soon be as forgotten as was Zell Miller, the Georgia Democratic Senator who spoke at the Republican convention in 2004 in support of Bush over Kerry.
Lieberman wants to save his Chairmanship. So he has contributed $100,000 from his political fund to elect Senate Democrats. He is trying to buy his way out of a mortal political sin. No sale, Lieberman. That money, and even future money, does not forgive his support of McCain for President. The people of Connecticut can elect whomever they choose. That does not mean that official is entitled to the benefits of the Democratic caucus. That is what House Democrats established in 1964 and 1974. Senate Democrats should follow suit.
True, right now Lieberman has a whip hand. If he leaves the caucus and votes with the Republicans to organize the Senate, Cheney breaks a 50-50 tie. That would mean Lieberman will have broken his unambiguous pledge to Connecticut voters that he would vote with the Democrats to organize the Senate. To break the pledge would make Lieberman’s legacy that of a liar or a Benedict Arnold.
Next year, hopefully, there will a different scenario. If Democrats reach the magic number of 52, Lieberman should be treated as Wayne Morse was when he supported, as a Republican, Stevenson over Eisenhower in 1952. Lieberman would lose his Committee Chairmanship (Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs), and all Committee assignments from the Senate Democrats. If Republicans wanted to give him Committee assignments, that would be the Republican Conference’s decision. Otherwise, he would get last choice and go to the bottom of the list.
Will Senate Democrats pass the easy test of disciplining Lieberman? That’s far from clear. They are likely to have to be shamed into exercising their basic party responsibilities.