OP-ED | Joe-verload: The Farewell Tour of Joe Lieberman
I’m calling it Joe-verload. It’s that feeling you get when the pervasive presence of the senior senator from the state of Connecticut, Joseph I. Lieberman, starts to get on your nerves.
As is the case with the state’s junior senator, Richard Blumenthal, one of the most dangerous pieces of real estate in Connecticut is that space between Lieberman and a television camera (unless, of course, Chuck Schumer is visiting). So I’m accustomed to Joe-verload. I’ve been used to it ever since Lieberman was plucked out of New Haven to become Al Gore’s running mate in 2000 — the first person of Jewish faith on a national ticket.
But even by the low standard of politics, I’m tired of looking at Lieberman’s mug and hearing his voice. You see, after 24 years, Lieberman is retiring from the United States Senate. So he’s going on a state and national goodbye tour — mostly, it seems, for the benefit of the news media. Lieberman is granting interviews to almost anyone who will listen to him, forcing those of us who follow politics for a living to endure even more of his pious pronouncements.
Last week, Lieberman sat for an interview with NBC-CT and another on CNN. This weekend he’s slated for an appearance on The Real Story with Laurie Perez. And the day after Thanksgiving, the Courant wrote a panegyric of an editorial, calling Lieberman a legislator with “uncommon gifts” who “leaves giant footprints on Connecticut’s political landscape.”
Permit me to disagree. My dissent has less to do with Lieberman’s positions on domestic issues, with which I sometimes find myself in agreement, than it does with his trigger-happy foreign policy and his proclivity for putting his own interests ahead of his party, his state — perhaps even his own faith.
Then-state Attorney General Lieberman successfully challenged incumbent Republican Sen. Lowell Weicker in 1988, blasting the burly maverick as a bear sleeping through important Senate votes.
Ironically, Lieberman promptly assumed the maverick label himself, serving as chair of the moderate Democratic Leadership Council and angering many of his liberal colleagues with his hardline stance on Iraq and, more recently, his threat to use a Senate veto to block the public healthcare option in what would later become Obamacare. It’s worth noting that 15 years earlier, Lieberman had sponsored an amendment to ban filibusters.
Like most Nutmeggers, I felt a surge of pride when Gore tapped Lieberman to be his running mate in 2000. But that feeling quickly evaporated when Lieberman decided to run for re-election to the Senate at the same time.
It was the epitome of hubristic self-interest. If the Gore-Lieberman ticket had won, GOP Gov. John Rowland would have surely appointed a Republican to fill Lieberman’s Senate seat until a special election could be held, at which time Rowland’s appointee would have had the advantage of running as an incumbent.
If, on the other hand, Lieberman had simply resigned his seat, state Democrats could have nominated a high-profile candidate like Blumenthal, Lieberman’s successor as attorney general, who would have been a shoo-in against little-known GOP nominee Alan Schlesinger. Lieberman’s lordly double-dealing so horrified me that I voted for his Republican opponent, Waterbury Mayor Phil Giordano, who was later nabbed by the FBI and still sits in a federal prison for sexually assaulting little girls right in his City Hall office.
Up until he became Gore’s running mate, Lieberman was well known as an observant Jew who adhered to the edicts of his faith that prohibit writing, using electricity, driving, and talking on the telephone during the Sabbath. But in order to reconcile his faith with his ambition for higher office, Lieberman and two of his rabbis fashioned a flimsy rationalization that would allow him to function as vice president seven days a week.
Six years later, Lieberman’s support for the Iraq war, coupled with the famous kiss he exchanged with President George W. Bush at the 2005 state of the union address, made him persona non grata among many Connecticut Democrats, even if it elevated his popularity with Fox News devotees.
The insurgent candidacy of Greenwich entrepreneur Ned Lamont, a fierce critic of Bush’s Iraq disaster, appeared to be Lieberman’s undoing. Lamont gave Lieberman a sound six-point thrashing in the Democratic primary, but once again the thought of no longer being in the Senate got the better of Lieberman. So he rebranded himself as an “Independent Democrat” — whatever that is — and mounted a successful third-party bid. Thus we were spared having to live in a world without a Sen. Joe Lieberman.
The Courant might fancy Lieberman a statesman. I’d say he’s a typical high-profile politician. In other words, life is all about him and his career. Forgive me if I don’t buy a ticket to the farewell tour.
Terry Cowgill blogs at ctdevilsadvocate.com, is the editor of ctessentialpolitics.com and was an award-winning editor and senior writer for The Lakeville Journal Company. He can be found on Twitter @terrycowgill.