Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Toward the end of this year's presidential campaign, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman took his message to a conservative radio show, where he was asked, "Do you agree ... that if we don't at least have the fire wall of the filibuster in the Senate that in many ways America will not survive?" The host was talking about Democrats potentially winning as many as 60 caucus members, which would bring the chance to forestall - in theory, anyway - the ability of minority Republicans to halt the Democratic agenda. Sixty votes is required to stop debate and allow contentious bills to move forward.
Said Lieberman, who remains a registered Democrat and caucused with Democrats even after losing his Senate primary two years ago: "Well, I hope it's not like that, but I fear."
Fear? If the Democratic agenda is so fearsome, why would he choose to caucus with them?
The question is even more pertinent today. His erstwhile party did well for itself on Election Day, winning closely fought campaigns from coast to coast. And with Senate races yet to be decided in Alaska, Minnesota and Georgia, the possibility the party could reach that "fear"-inducing 60-vote threshold remains.
Lieberman decided this year that nothing was more important than electing as president Arizona Sen. John McCain. He failed. In the course of his failure, he repeatedly questioned the readiness, patriotism and priorities of the man America did choose, President-elect Barack Obama.
Despite this, Democrats voted Tuesday to allow Lieberman to keep his chairmanship of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. If McCain had won the White House, Lieberman likely would have been named to a top Cabinet position (McCain reportedly wanted Lieberman as his running mate before being talked out of it). So our senator emerges as the one person who would have wound up ahead regardless of the election's outcome.
The real question, then, is this: If he fears for America in the event of Democratic ascendency, shouldn't he take it upon himself to put a stop to it? Shouldn't he caucus with Republicans and keep that 60th vote out of reach?
Could it be that all this was only about Joe Lieberman holding onto power for himself?
If nothing else, Joe Lieberman is a survivor.
The Democratic leadership has every right to toss him to the curb. But in the name of bipartisanship, not holding grudges or maybe self-flagellation, he's likely to stay on as chairman of the Senate committee on government oversight.
Funny how when Republicans win elections they aren't expected to cater to the other party's loudest supporters.
For a year, Lieberman was maybe the most vocal backer of John McCain in Washington. And that alone wouldn't have been a big problem -- Democrats wouldn't have liked it, but if he'd simply endorsed his candidate and made a few speeches, everyone would have been able to get over it.
It didn't go that way, of course. Lieberman, who reportedly begged Barack Obama to come to his rescue in the Senate primary two years ago, proceeded to attack Obama -- in that ever-so-polite manner of his -- at every opportunity.
In April, he was asked, "Senator Lieberman, you know Barack Obama; is he a Marxist?" Responded Joe: "Well, you know, I must say that's a good question."
Isn't it, though!
In May, he said: "The fact that the spokesperson for Hamas would say they would welcome the election of Senator Obama really does raise the question, 'Why?'"
In August: We have a choice "between one candidate, John McCain, who has always put the country first, worked across party lines to get things done, and one candidate who has not."
Marxism, terrorism and treason -- in Joe's world, that counts as fair criticism.
The president-elect, being a magnanimous type, has signaled he wants Lieberman to stay in the Democratic caucus. No one has suggested kicking him out, but if he loses his committee chairmanship -- the caucus will vote on that this week -- it's widely thought he's done with the party.
It bears repeating -- if Lieberman leaves the Democratic caucus, it will be because he chose to do so. He will gain nothing from switching to the Republican side; they have nothing to offer. It would be the senatorial equivalent of taking his ball and going home.
And still, the best reason to remove him isn't about settling a score, or meting out punishment. It's because he's bad at his job. In charge of government oversight, he saw no reason to hold hearings into a raft of Bush administration scandals and disasters, deeming "divisive" the idea of probing the response to Hurricane Katrina.
It's up to the Democrats to decide his future, and signs indicate he'll get to stick around. But however it turns out, let's dispense with this notion of "betrayal." Lieberman ran against his lifelong party's chosen nominee in the 2006 Senate race; he can't be surprised some people weren't thrilled with the idea.
He campaigned endlessly for the Republican ticket this year. He vouched for Sarah Palin and told the world how ready she was -- "She's so strong, she's so capable, she's so competent," he said. This about a person who stands for everything Lieberman has supposedly fought against throughout his career. Like in 2006, he repeatedly denounced the Democratic candidate and strongly implied that choosing not to listen to him was unpatriotic and would put lives at risk.
And apparently there are still people mad that mean old Al Gore didn't call before bypassing his ex-running mate and endorsing Howard Dean in 2004. These are adults we're talking about, right?
The Senate being what it is, Lieberman will probably stay right where he is, which means four more years of Sunday morning talk shows. That, truly, is what it's all about.
Hugh S. Bailey is assistant editorial page editor at the Connecticut Post. He can be reached at 203-330-6233 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
All along, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman knew what he was doing. He knew consequences were likely, for himself and the state he serves, if he continued his actions.
The inevitable got under way last week as Lieberman, the former Democrat who ran as an independent and wholeheartedly supported the Republican presidential ticket, met with Senate leadership to begin determining his fate. He is unlikely to emerge unscathed.
As chairman of the powerful Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Lieberman has much to lose. The Democratic Party, of course, did quite well for itself last week, and no longer needs Lieberman's support to secure a majority.
He could lose his chairmanship, be denied seniority rights or be kicked out of the caucus altogether. Republicans have already said they would welcome him - as well they should, given their shrinking numbers.
It didn't have to be this way. Lieberman is a longtime friend of John McCain, and could have supported his candidacy while provoking nothing but a few grumbles. Instead, Lieberman invested every ounce of his political capital in the campaign, and even as signs clearly indicated his candidate was finished, continued to dig his own political grave.
He launched one attack after another at Barack Obama and the Democratic Party. Now, he must live with the consequences. Unfortunately for the state of Connecticut, the rest of us pay a price, too, in terms of diminished stature in the Senate and less chance of getting federal help when we need it.
State voters, whether they voted for him or not, have every right to be angry.
There's a temptation among those who backed the winners last week to gloat, but most understand it would be unseemly. This isn't a football game; it's not about winning elections, it's about changing policies.
But so much happened last Tuesday that can't be ignored. The results ran counter to everything we've been told for the past few years about our country's politics.
If we're a center-right country, how is Indiana a blue state?
Locally, while there are many who were eager to see Rep. Christopher Shays defeated, there are few who think he's a bad person, or even a bad congressman. He tied himself too closely to a bad president and his pet war, but that doesn't erase 21 years of service. His biggest problem was being a Republican in a banner year for Democrats.
For the state's most prominent supporter of John McCain, though, there is plenty of leftover anger. Joe Lieberman didn't just speak out on McCain's behalf, he threw himself into the campaign. Then, after the votes were counted, he said, "it is time to put partisan considerations aside and come together as a nation to solve the difficult challenges we face."
He didn't prove much of a salesman. He made his case for months, and the electorate, especially in his home state, turned out in huge numbers for the other guy -- the one Lieberman told us wasn't ready.
While punishing Lieberman would provide some short-term satisfaction, there's not much point. The Democrats don't need him to form a majority. He should lose his committee chairmanship, but beyond that, he's already received the worst punishment he could face -- irrelevance.
National voting patterns can change quickly, as evidenced by the four years it took from Republicans planning for a permanent majority to figuring out how to rebuild their party. But many trends are encouraging for Democrats.
The population is shrinking in the Northeast, a Democratic stronghold. But the places people are moving are all getting bluer -- Colorado, Nevada and North Carolina are all among the fastest-growing states, and they all moved to the Democratic column. Two others high on that list, Arizona and Georgia, were supposed to be GOP locks, but were in doubt right up to Election Day.
McCain won the vote among white people -- a not insubstantial percentage of the electorate. But it's also a shrinking percentage, a trend that's only going to gain speed in coming years.
The only age range that supported McCain was 65 and older. For obvious reasons, that's a tough group to base your future around.
There was plenty that was one-time-only about this election. Barack Obama making history was a big part, as was the revulsion over the Bush years, and a Republican candidate who Republicans themselves never really took to.
And for Democrats to stay in power, of course, they need to get things right. But the numbers indicate that if they show basic competence -- getting the economy going again would be a good start -- the demographics going forward are favorable.
Nearly every county that voted more Republican this year compared to 2004 lies in a swath of land that includes Tennessee, Arkansas and Oklahoma, with parts of Louisiana thrown in. So that's 33 electoral votes you can already mark down in the red column for 2012.
The GOP can also likely count on stalwarts like Utah, Wyoming, Idaho and Nebraska, and we'll toss in Alabama, Kansas and Kentucky for good measure. That's 40 more.
Given the trends, barring a radical makeover, the other 465 could be harder to come by.
Hugh S. Bailey is assistant editorial page editor at the Connecticut Post. He can be reached at 203-330-6233 or via e-mail at email@example.com.
Thursday, November 6, 2008
As the collective surprise and euphoria that greet the end of the presidential race subside, the country is faced with an unexpected question: Just how big a change was this?
Political scientists will tell you any Democrat would have been favored to win the White House this year. With a tremendously unpopular Republican incumbent, voters would naturally look to the opposition party for a fresh start.
Similarly, an economy in trouble is always bad news for the party trying to hold onto power. What had been a relatively close race for much of the summer started to drift into a Democratic runaway as Wall Street fell apart.
But circumstances can only tell you so much; there is more to an election than what happens in the background. In taking stock of Tuesday's outcome, it is impossible to ignore the tremendous appeal and the uncanny political skills of the president-elect of the United States, Barack Hussein Obama.
His name alone tells us something different was afoot this year. The occasional Eisenhower aside, this country tends to elect people with traditional-sounding names, like Johnson and Wilson, Ronald and William. Not this time.
Pundits have been telling us for years, in the absence of real evidence, that we live in a center-right nation, where conservatism is the dominant ideology. (Democrats, recall, have won the popular vote in four of the past five presidential elections.) But the electorate chose a candidate who believes firmly in the ability of the government to play a positive role in people's lives, to provide a safety net for the population's most vulnerable segments. Despite the idiotic braying of the campaign's closing weeks, this philosophy bears no resemblance to "socialism," but does represent a distinctly leftward slant. And it was the clear choice of the American people.
Finally, unavoidably, is the question of his appearance. Americans have always dreamed of a colorblind society, where a person is judged solely on his or her abilities and character, and not on physical characteristics. But we know we're not yet the vision of the idealists, and maybe never will be.
But we also know - we have definitive proof - that we aren't the country the cynics think we are, either. Barack Obama, a child of mixed-race heritage, the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas, will be sworn in as president of the United States in January.
Nothing can detract from this moment, this accomplishment. It belongs not just to the man who won the election, but to all of us - and to history.
It's possible Barack Obama will remember the past two years as the easy part.
His accomplishments cannot be overstated - winning the Democratic presidential nomination over a hugely favored opponent; becoming the first person other than a white male to head a major party's ticket; and, of course, on Tuesday, winning the nation's popular vote and electoral college, and thereby the presidency.
But the challenges ahead are enormous. He will take office in January facing difficulties unprecedented in recent memory. The economy is in turmoil, with many experts predicting a prolonged slowdown. Rates of foreclosures and credit defaults continue to worsen, and unemployment keeps rising.
In addition, the country is fighting two wars. Our national reputation is at its lowest point in decades, leading other countries to be less willing to help in the fight against international terrorism. And all signs point to global climate change as the pre-eminent challenge of the coming decades, a problem the U.S. has been painfully slow to address.
The problems won't wait, but it's worth taking the time to appreciate what has been achieved. There are probably many people who never thought they'd live to see the day when a person with a family tree like Obama's could reach the nation's highest office. The son of a Kenyan father and a mother from Kansas, Obama spent part of his youth living overseas, in Indonesia. He lived many years in multicultural Hawaii before beginning his higher education on the East Coast.
All his experiences prepared him for today. And he will need every bit of the intelligence, character and diligence he displayed in the long months on the campaign trail. His calm demeanor proved reassuring in a time of national crises, and led a nation to put its trust in the freshman U.S. senator from Illinois.
Nothing will come easily from here, but just to make it this far is an accomplishment beyond belief for most of us. The president-elect will need everyone behind him to get the country moving forward again. We have put our trust in him, and now is his time to lead.