Why Lieberman Is Making Democrats' Lives Miserable

Sen. Joe Lieberman caucuses with Democrats but works hard to undermine their agenda

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Tension between Sen. Joe Lieberman and the Democratic Party he once helped lead in the 2000 presidential campaign is nothing new. Ever since President Obama's election--and especially during the debate over health care reform--Lieberman has been more foe than ally. We've explored his fight with the left, his turning the screws on the White House, and his opposition to the public option. But now Lieberman opposes even the lauded "public option compromise," which he was expected to support and is seen as palatable even to centrists further right than him. Why, exactly, has Joe Lieberman become such an adamant opponent of the Democratic agenda?

  • He Used To Support This Policy Mother Jones's Nick Baumann notes that the campaign platform shared by Lieberman and Al Gore during their 2000 presidential run included an expansion of medicare to Americans aged 55 to 64. That is the exact policy that Lieberman now threatens to filibuster and vote down. "Lieberman has been moving to the right for years now," he writes. "The question is, why won't he acknowledge his shift?"
  • He Just Hates Liberals The Washington Post's Ezra Klein laments that Lieberman "is forcing liberals to give up yet another compromise. Each time he does that, he increases the chances of the bill's failure that much more. And if there's a policy rationale here, it's not apparent to me, or to others who've interviewed him. At this point, Lieberman seems primarily motivated by torturing liberals. That is to say, he seems willing to cause the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in order to settle an old electoral score," Klein writes, alluding to Lieberman's villification by the left following his support for Sen. John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign. "[T]he underlying dynamic seems to be that Lieberman will destroy any compromise the left likes."
  • Dem Leadership Tolerates It Open Left's Chris Bowers wishes they wouldn't. "Lieberman flip-flipped because he can. No matter what Lieberman does, the majority of the Democratic Senate caucus won't do anything about it," he writes. "Nothing Lieberman is doing would be possible without the ongoing support of the majority of the Democratic caucus. If Democratic Senators wanted to punish Lieberman for his consistent transgressions against the party, they could. [...] Lieberman is simply taking the power that is being handed to him by the rest of the caucus."
  • Partisan Opposition Over Saving Lives Matthew Yglesias unleashes, "The leverage that Lieberman and other 'centrists' have obtained on this issue (and on climate change) stems from a demonstrated willingness to embrace sociopathic indifference to the human cost of their actions." He suggests Liberman's fluctuating support has been "timed to cause embarrassment to the Democratic leadership. [...] one can hardly be all that surprised that he's making problems for the Obama administration's #1 domestic priority. After all, Lieberman took the view that John McCain would be the better President."
  • Debate Stacked Against Reform Washington Monthly's Steve Benen explains how Lieberman exploits the weakness. "It's the leverage trump-card dynamic that's been apparent throughout the debate -- the left doesn't want reform to fail; the right doesn't care," he writes. "For the left, failure is not an option, because the human, political, economic, and fiscal consequences are too severe. For the right, failure is entirely acceptable, if not preferable. Both sides know what the other side is thinking. The result is less of a negotiation and more of a hostage standoff, with Joe Lieberman playing the role of the proverbial gunman who isn't bluffing."
  • He Wants Attention Foreign Policy's Marc Lynch scoffs, "Joe Lieberman firmly holding the line in his principled demands that everybody pay attention to Joe Lieberman. Not exactly a surprise."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.