Our political Quote of the Day is actually two quotes of the day dealing with the question of why Senator Joe Lieberman seemingly changed a key position — on the medicare buy in. The quotes come from two sources generally considered reliable stand-back-and-analyze infooutlets, versus the typical left-right weblogs that seem engaged in permanent political campaigns for their own party and against the other party.
The Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder must-read-each-day blog often contains posts with original reporting and Ambinder has extensive sources so whatever he writes carries a lot of weight. He writes this:
What Lieberman is actually trying to do — and surely, the Democratic leadership has discovered this by now — is to kill or weaken the bill.
Since, really, 2006, Lieberman has felt alienated from his caucus, and he’s grown more conservative. He does not care about liberals, who tried to drum him out of office in 2006; he seems to enjoy poking them in the eye. He’s not likely to run for office again, so he’s not terribly worried about loud protests. His contempt for liberals coincides with his new conservative friends, aides, colleagues, donors. (He was never a fiscal liberal to begin with, but his fiscal conservatism seems to have ripened lately.)
Lieberman blessed the Gang of Ten deal privately before those talks were completed, then reversed himself as soon as it became evident that the left saw a silver lining in the consolation prize of a Medicare buy-in proposal.
There is the explanation that Lieberman is an unusually talented egoist; certainly obstreperous for the sake of seeming obstreperous. But if this impulse of Lieberman’s governed his policy decisions, then he would certainly want to be seen as health care’s savior, and not be content with being seen as its destroyer. Lieberman has designed his public campaign as a way to streeeetch out the debate as much as possible, and just as Democrats seem to be on the verge of reaching him, like a quantum particle, he appears instantly at a completely different location, rendering useless at least a week of hard soldering by the Democrats.
To many of Lieberman’s colleagues, it’s been hard for them to accept that his motives were different than those he stated in public, but there have apparently been a number of private assurances given — and broken — by the Connecticut senator in recent weeks — and a growing recognition that, of all the wavering “moderate” Democrats — Bill Nelson, Blanche Lincoln and Mary Landreiu — Lieberman is the least likely to negotiate to a compromise.
Ambinder notes that the Democrats will have to do something that I have predicted for a long time in my discussions with friends about this issue: they’re going to have to pass a diluted bill giving Senator Snowe what she wants and use it as a kind of political skelteon — to add meat and flesh to it later. He writes:
The good news for Democrats is that once they pass this bill, they can add subsidies through the much-easier reconciliation process later on. They’ve got several years to do so, assuming they retain their majority, which is probably not possible if they fail to pass health care.
Ambinder’s piece is notable because it shifts the Joe Lieberman reportage narrative from a Senator of conscience being pursued because he isn’t left enough by the left to a Senator angry at the left who is now involved in payback of the left.
It fits in with the analysis provided by MSNBC’s respected First Read team of Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg:
*** Principle or Politics? There’s now growing evidence that Lieberman’s objection to the Medicare “buy-in” compromise isn’t necessarily based on principle. Yesterday, a video from this past September made the rounds that showed Lieberman clearly stating he supports expanding Medicare to those in their 50s. In addition, while Lieberman has been a hawk on national security issues, he’s been a consistent liberal on economic ones. According to National Journal’s vote ratings for 2008, he was MORE LIBERAL than 68% of the Senate on economic issues, putting him squarely in the Democratic mainstream. (By comparison, he was more liberal than just 38% of the chamber on foreign affairs, placing him to the right of the Dem caucus.) In 2007, he was more liberal than 72% of the Senate on the economy, and his ratings for 2005 and 2006 were similar. Bottom line: It appears Lieberman is acting a bit out of character on this issue, given his history of being a rank-and-file Democrat (leaning liberal/progressive) on domestic issues. This is why the charge of playing politics with the left is looking so believable to some.
So now you have two, reliable, stand-back analytical web sources essentially coming to the same conclusion: despite what he or his aides may say, an emerging conventional wisdom is that Lieberman on one level was essentially acting out.
Could this indeed be what happened?
It certainly sounds as if some of what is going on is Lieberman payback, which he can do because Congressional Democrats and the White House decided after the election that working with him would have more benefits than targeting him.
But is there another factor as well?
Couldn’t it have been predicted that Lieberman would take this path? In recent years he has increasingly been on the same wavelength on many issues as his good friend Senator John McCain, another partisan who until recently was considered not completely reliable as a party person by many in his own party. McCain even reportedly wanted Lieberman to run as his Veep but was told the GOP rank and file would never accept it. As McCain took an increasingly firmer — and angrier — stand against healthcare reform as details trickled out about what could emerge, and became Obama’s chief critic, is it any real surprise that Lieberman in the end would essentially be on the same wavelength?
But never underestimate the 21st century political trend towards payback. Grudge matches are evident between parties, ideologies, you see it on the Internet between websites, within websites, and in comments on websites. It’s starts as issue based but often evolves into about getting back at and trying to flatten those who opposed you or see things differently. In Lieberman’s case, his foes on the left thought they finished him off in the primary. NOT! They thought he was humbled by the 2008 election results. NOT! And – the latest — they thought based on his past statements on television and what Senate Democrats said he had indicated to them just weeks earlier that he would go along with the latest emerging compromise. NOT!
So, unless there is some big surprise, Lieberman clearly wins this skirmish.
Now the question becomes, given that he’s not up for re-election, will those now enraged at Lieberman more than ever have their own nice, cold dish of revenge in coming months as well?
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