Joe Lieberman: The Democrats' Worst Enemy

Joe Lieberman is enemy number one in the Democratic Party, at least among the netroot base which now appears to pull the strings. The netroots rounded up more than 45,000 signatures on a petition to strip him of his position as chair of Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committees. As Robert Novak reported, Harry Reid is mulling over whether to kick Lieberman out of the Democratic caucus entirely if he speaks at the Republican convention on John McCain’s behalf.

By championing the surge, advocating for a robust national security, warning of the dangers of Iran’s state sponsorship of terror and nuclear development and lecturing his party on their errant ways, Lieberman has made himself into a major thorn in the Democrats’ side. When he invokes Democratic presidents of the past like FDR, Truman and Kennedy, his Democratic colleagues squirm. He hopes to reform his party and lead them back from the precipice of McGovernism and international retreat, but they aren’t much interested in that.  They’re all in thrall to the types.

In fact, Daily Kos reported that at the annual gathering of the Democratic Leadership Council, the formerly mainstream Democratic group, the assembled Democrats cheered and applauded when Lieberman was referred to with a schoolyard expletive. It seems there is no longer room in the Democratic caucus for a Scoop Jackson Democrat, even one who espouses many liberal positions on domestic issues.

And of course, Lieberman has become one of the more effective spokesmen for John McCain — perhaps the most effective one — in explaining the dangers of Barack Obama’s foreign policy plans and pointing out his flip-flops, most clearly on the Kyl-Lieberman amendment classifying the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization. (Obama was against the Kyl-Lieberman before he went in front of AIPAC and discovered it was a good idea.) For doing that Obama gave him a chewing out on the Senate floor. Yeah: how dare Lieberman call attention to Obama’s craven policy reversals on matters on national security?

Yesterday in a speech before the U.S.Global Engagement Conference Lieberman let it rip. After singing McCain’s praises on free trade and national security he reminded voters of the fight on the surge: “Fortunately for all of us, it is now clear: Senator McCain and others who shared his view were right, and Senator Obama and those who agreed with him were wrong. I wish Senator Obama would just say that the surge is working, rather than changing his positions on how and when we should exit Iraq without acknowledging that these changes in position are understandably based on facts on the ground.”

But Lieberman wasn’t done. In perhaps the most focused and eloquent indictment of Obama to date he declared:

Senator Obama this morning said that he wants a foreign policy that is “tough, smart, and principled.”  This afternoon, I ask: was it tough when Senator Obama voted to order U.S. forces to retreat from Iraq on a fixed timeline — regardless of the recommendations of our military commanders, regardless of conditions on the ground? Was it smart when Senator Obama opposed the surge and predicted that it would fail to improve security? Was it principled when Senator Obama said that he would order U.S. troops to retreat from Iraq, regardless of the humanitarian consequences for millions of innocent Iraqis — even genocide? Was it tough and principled when Senator Obama said he would be open to changing his plan for Iraq after going there and talking to General Petraeus — only to change that position a few hours later after being heatedly criticized by organizations like  I say respectfully, the answer to all of those questions is no.

Boom. It is easy to see why Harry Reid would like to drum Lieberman out of the party. (And it is hard to understand why the McCain camp can’t generate speeches this good.)

Meanwhile, Lieberman has remained publically ambivalent about his party. He has chided his party for abandoning a strong national security position. But so far he has declared his unwillingness to give up hope of reforming his party. Perhaps the Republicans can make the decision easier.

Mitch McConnell, the Senate Minority leader and among the savviest elected conservatives, might do well to welcome Lieberman with open arms.

It would be wise for McConnell to offer Lieberman the ranking minority spot on any committee of his choice, and, if he desires a position in the Senate leadership. In additional to potentially gaining a seat, the signal would be unmistakable:  the GOP welcomes any and all Democrats who no longer have a place in the defeatist, left-of-liberal Democratic Party.

As for McCain he also can be explicit: Lieberman can and will be on the short list for any cabinet position involving national security. Again, Democrats who are concerned about enhancing our national security, defending U.S. interests, promoting free trade, and opposing Iranian designs on nuclear weapons should know that the only party which shares these views without reservation is the GOP.

Why would the Democrats would be so foolish as to toss away an experienced hand like Lieberman, especially when, at least at present, the Senate is so narrowly split? The answer is three-fold.

First, the Democrats are counting their Senate seat pick-ups before they are hatched. They are convinced they will have plenty of new additions to their caucus. (They might want to check on the status of Al Franken’s campaign before they put that one in their column.)

Second, the Democrats, contrary to their image of intellectual diversity and tolerance, have a long history of insisting on ideological purity. Pro-life Robert Casey, you will recall, was denied a speaking slot at the 1992 Democratic Convention. The jihad against Lieberman is just the latest step in the party’s effort to purge officials who don’t hew to the ultra-left party line.

And finally, Lieberman is simply too great an embarrassment for the Democrats to tolerate. When a Democrat invokes FDR and Truman, reminds them of their lost tradition of defending freedom and pleads with them to recant from their policies of retreat and capitulation, it is, for many Democrats, just too much to bear. So better one fewer Senator than the guilt trip they must endure from listening to one of their own call them out for anti-America bashing and refusing to stand up to the world’s tyrants.

So if the Democrats can no longer tolerate Lieberman, the Republicans should make it clear that they would love to have him on board. Sure, his domestic policies are far to the left of many Republicans, but on that score he’ll be no worse than the duo of Maine Senators or Arlen Specter. But the symbolism would be stark: any and all Democrats who want a strong national defense will be given a hero’s welcome in the GOP.

In short, the message to non-Republicans: if you don’t want to march in the parade, come along with Joe and join us!