You have to hand it to Joe Lieberman, not, we should state for the record, that we ever had any doubt that he would retain his chairmanship of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in the US Senate the Democratic US Senate, that is. This, despite the former Democrats having rescued the presidential primary campaign of Republican John McCain, and having resigned as a Democrat in 2006, to become an Independent. All over the map Democrat, Republican, Independent Joe Lieberman is as elegant a political maneuverer as elegant goes, the ultimate political survivor. And we say: More power to him. Heres why:
Along his zigzagging political journey, Lieberman has stood for important principles, which become clear in revisiting his unusual twists and turns. He did not resign as a Democrat voluntarily. His party abandoned him during his race for reelection to the US Senate in 2006. Hillary Clinton was one of the abandoners, it is relevant to note. But when Lieberman lost the nod of the party, he did not throw in the towel. He ran as an Independent and won handily. Message to Democratic Party: Dont abandon Lieberman a second time; hes still one of us and hes still got the power to pull the votes.
This put Lieberman, who, after all, was also the vice-presidential candidate on the ticket that won the popular vote in 2000, in a position of power. And early in this presidential election, he exercised it wisely. His support of John McCain was stated by Lieberman to be support for the American presence in Iraq.
Lieberman changed the debate and the tenor of the entire campaign with reference to Iraq. True, the success of the surge legitimated Liebermans position, but his forceful articulation of the dangers of cutting and running in Iraq changed the substance, if not always the rhetoric, of the leading candidates, Republican and Democrat.
In the end, the differences between Obama and McCain on Iraq became almost a matter of semantics. Remember, the war receded from its primary role in the campaign long before the stock market crashed on Sept. 15. Although put in very different terms, both Obama and McCain agreed to a major reduction in the American presence in Iraq against the background of the major staying power of the US during the surge. Obama said that McCain had come over to his side, and McCain said that Obama had come over to his side; but, bottom line, it was Lieberman whose credibility and forceful articulation of the importance of staying the course during the critical time of the surge in Iraq gave political legitimacy to the position of both Obama and McCain. Lieberman originated neither the surge, nor McCains open support for it, nor Obamas late, tacit support for it, but Liebermans unique voice gave all this a public legitimacy.
Meanwhile, the Democrats want a filibuster-proof Senate, while Lieberman still wants to pull the levers of power, so they all came together. The Democratic Party is one seat closer to a filibuster-proof Senate, and Lieberman retained his chairmanship. He paid the meaningless price of a verbal repudiation of his comments on Obama by the Senate Democrats and the minor price of surrendering a subcommittee chairmanship. Bottom line: As long as his health holds up, Joe Lieberman is here to continue playing a major role in the affairs of this country, whether as Democrat, Republican, Independent whatever. The US is fortunate to have his voice, his passion and his gravitas (and, we might add, his humor).