Don't Gloat Over Lieberman's Exit

Who'd have thought it? Gail Collins, whose columns in the New York Times are often insightful and frequently hilarious, has a snarky side. Collins may have a preference for the humorous jab, but on learning of Joe Lieberman's decision to leave the Senate in two years, her response was, essentially, "don't let the door hit you in the rear." Why?

Let us concede that Lieberman might sometimes appear a bit too preachy for some tastes.  Some see him as sanctimonious. Others seem to see him as, gasp, "disloyal." The Left sees him as a traitor within the Democratic ranks and the Right sees him as an occasional ally but one who can't be counted upon. The truth is, Lieberman is neither fish nor fowl, which makes him the kind of member of Congress we should all hope for; one who decides issues on their merits, not party dictates, and who listens to his constituents, not party insiders.

Consider the 2006 race in which an opportunistic millionaire named Ned Lamont challenged, and narrowly defeated, Lieberman in Connecticut's Democratic primary for the Senate in a race that highlighted the way in which closed party primaries distort the election process.  Instead of fading away, Lieberman ran in the general election as an Independent and beat Lamont by a whopping 10 points. While he was not the choice of narrow party activists, he was the choice of the Connecticut electorate.

In a world in which party affiliation too often means more to politicians than matters of principle, it was easy in the insular world of a party primary to paint Joe Lieberman -- long-time champion of civil rights and other progressive causes -- as an apostate, unwilling to join other liberals in condemnation of the wars in which America had found itself embroiled. I, too, have argued that our continued involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan is not in the nation's best interest, but even if I disagreed with Lieberman's assessment, there was no doubt that he was a man who had weighed the issues carefully and was doing what he thought was right.

When Lieberman was tapped to be Al Gore's running mate, he was criticized for not functioning sufficiently as an attack dog in his televised debate with Dick Cheney. But Joe Lieberman, and let's be thankful for it, is not an attack dog; he's a citizen who thinks disagreement with his own views does not imply malevolence or stupidity in an opponent.  What a rare treat.

Agree with him or not, when a Joe Lieberman can no longer be appreciated or welcome in our increasingly uncivil politics we have indeed lost a vital part of the deliberative process upon which a vibrant democracy depends.