This is the way Lieberman ends …
… not with a bang nor a whimper. Well, maybe a whimper; the guy is always whimpering.
I’ve mentioned Lieberman enough that I should, perhaps, acknowledge his retirement announcement or the announcement that he will leave the Senate in two years. In his press conference (Lieberman can’t do anything without TV coverage) he claimed that he realized the wisdom of Ecclesiastes that “To every thing there is a season …” Looking back on his career, Lieberman could not have chosen a more apt scriptural text, concentrating as it does on “vanity” and “vexation of spirit.” It might have been more profitable for him if he had consulted it before his Vice Presidential debate with Dick Cheney; he might have realized that Cheney’s soulless wealth and power was nothing more than the “evil disease” described in Ecclesiastes 6:2. But Joe, impish scallywag that he thinks he is, decided to fawn all over Cheney and fumble his only important part of the 2000 election. It was a sight to behold. Two men, neither very intelligent, standing forth as tough guys in defense of America. Of course both of them had other priorities during the Vietnam War when they could have actually shown how tough they were. But some men are destined (or if not actually destined, they seek out student deferments) to lead other people to death, and not risk it themselves.
A sizeable part of the population will always remember “Fightin’ Joe” as Al Gore’s biggest mistake. He would have been a mistake even if he hadn’t done his best to ensure that Gore was not elected. Imagine if Gore served two terms and Lieberman became the 2008 Democratic nominee (because as sitting Vice President he would have been the logical choice)? Would he have simply conceded to McCain from the start? Or would he have arranged to become John’s Vice President? John Nance Garner once called the Vice Presidency not worth a “warm bucket of piss.” Perhaps it was for that reason that so many people thought of Lieberman as the logical VP candidate.
I suppose we have the 2000 debate to thank for the warmth and closeness that Joe developed with Dick and especially his wife Lynne. The two, Joe and Lynne, would the next year lend their names to an organization, The American Council of Trustees and Alumni, designed to stomp out teaching at colleges and universities that in the least deviated from their hard right views on American foreign policy. A Senator that kept a list of un-American college professors? Lieberman was never afraid to be considered too 1950-ish; he was that kind of “independent.” A McCarthy of the non-Eugene type.
Joe was one of those who fought–actually got others to do the real fighting, but still–to get those weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of Saddam Hussein. Saddam Hussein didn’t have any weapons of mass destruction, you say? See how well Joe did his job!
But the Democrats refused to nominate him for President in 2004. Imagine that! Him with all that experience running for national office against Dick Cheney. And this time it would be against George W. Bush. With whom he could never articulate an important policy disagreement. What could the Democrats have been thinking in rejecting him? It would haunt his very soul.
And then how did the voters of his very own state repay all his work with Lynne Cheney and George W. Bush? Well, they denied him renomination. Him! Fightin’ Joe! But he showed them. He made up a party: Connecticut for Lieberman. (There was apparently some prior claim on the name Everything for Lieberman.) And got re-elected.
And with that victory, he took it to the Democrats by spending 2008 going around with Sarah Palin and Joe the Plumber, calling Barack Obama a socialist and appearing on Glenn Beck’s show as the token Democratic nutjob. (Joe was instrumental in getting Glenn into Yale night school and recently said how proud he is of him.)
I won’t relive with you the last two years with Joe. We all, I’m sure, have our special memories. My own favorite was his preening and posturing in 2009, taking up and then dropping every conceivable position on health insurance reform (from complete fillibuster, to Medicare buy-in for everybody, to no public option, to whatever at the moment would get him on TV). And in any event, Joe isn’t really going anywhere. He will be in the Senate for two more years. Ecclesiastes might say there is a season for everything, but Joe is going to have eight more seasons before he changes venues. And he’ll probably be on TV even more than he otherwise would have. Now that he is not a “partisan” the pundits will call on him to get his “independent” take on things. And he won’t have to answer any of those annoying questions like, How do you plan to get re-elected with a 25% approval rating?
And even if he leaves the Senate (he only said he won’t run; not that he won’t nail his feet to the Senate floor), we can rest assured that Joe will be a regular guest on Fox News, perhaps even a regular host. He redoubled the kind of fawning he showed Dick Cheney and gave it gift wrapped to Rupert Murdock on the Don Imus show. How can that kind of naked obsequiousness fail to pay off in the end? It defined his career since he first interned for Abraham Ribicoff. Most young people have never adequately learned how to be a sycophant. Let them see Joe’s success as a living reminder of the truth of the old proverb “Never criticize a wealthy man until you have licked his boots many, many times, and even then don’t criticize him.” Perhaps a Yale classmate, Washington Post Associate Editor Bob Kaiser Yale ’64, best expressed it in a story for a story in the Yale Daily News, February 4, 2003: “None of us who knew him well have been surprised by anything except maybe the extent of his success.” (Neither emphasis nor irony in the original.)
Perhaps none of this would have caused me to record my fond memories of Lieberman’s career had it not been for the wisdom of the devoted David Brooks, the public intellectual most attuned to Lieberman’s style. (“Public intellectual” is such a debased title these days that I trust you can even drink coffee while reading that description of him.) You can see for yourself in his soon to be widely anthologized “A Most Valuable Democrat,” in the January 21, 2011 issue of The New York Times. You’ll have to register, but I wouldn’t bother because I’ll give you the gist, and if you’ve ever read Brooks you can fill in the rest yourself. (Random references, confused thinking, irritating writing, etc. It doesn’t make any difference which of his styles you pick since he never makes a point worth thinking about.) Here’s the take away:
“It would be nice if voters made room for a few independents like this. There have been times, like during the health care debate, when I found Lieberman’s independence befuddling and detached from any evident intellectual moorings. But, in general, he has shown a courageous independence of mind.
“There are plenty of team players in government who do whatever the leader says. There are too few difficult members, who have complicated minds, unusual perspectives, the toughness to withstand the party-line barrages and a practical interest in producing results.”
Well, I suppose Brooks has a point. But do you think South Carolina will give up Jim DeMint in order to have someone with a “complicated mind”?
But I can see David’s point. When all of government was going around falsely claiming Hussein had biological weapons and was about to detonate a nuclear weapon, who was it that had the courageous independence to probe those false claims? (Well in Joe’s defense he was probably intellectually unmoored in that instance as well. Mooring is a problem for Joe. It’s why he is best as a TV commentator.)
It is a good thing we have people like Brooks and Broder and the rest of the “rational center” public intellectuals. We often forget what government is about. Many of us think in old fashioned terms of providing services that the market can’t undertake or does so only at a great cost (in money or otherwise). Some of us think badly of representatives who are unattached to intellectual moorings. Fortunately David is always there to remind us that intellectual moorings are for those whose job it is to write a couple hundred words every few days. It is the job of the national politician to have the courage to provide fodder for those couple hundred words. And let’s not forget David’s stirring words about party bosses. After all we live in a time where party discipline has reached its tyrannical zenith. That’s why Democrats with a two House majority and filibuster-proof majority in the Senate were able to get so many of their campaign promises accomplished.
I too would like to celebrate Joe’s leaving (were it only sooner) with a quote from his favorite book, Ecclesiastes 2:21: “For there is a man whose labour is in wisdom, and in knowledge, and in equity; yet to a man that hath not laboured therein shall he leave it for his portion.” So good luck Senator in leaving it for your portion.
Hey, Wait a Minute! The big family gathering at the announcement, the spit take, the first line of the Brooks quote. They give me an idea of what Lieberman can do in two years: A network sit-com titled “Make Room for Joey.” (You should wipe the coffee off your computer screen now.)