Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Lieberman survives

Joe Lieberman has survived a vote of no-confidence from his colleagues, the rest of the Senate Democrats, and will continue as chairman of the Homeland Security Committee. The vote was 42-13. Looks like I was wrong.

There's a certain amount of bitterness on blogs, disillusionment with the Senate Democrat leadership, anger at the apparent refusal to discipline the wayward Senator. I'm not in that camp; I'm not that worried about Lieberman. Looking at this from a new perspective, I have an idea why I was wrong: for most Senate Dems, the punishment does not fit the crime. Lieberman campaigned for McCain, but he didn't actually make a difference, or at least not much of one. So the Senate Dems are probably feeling like they can afford to be magnanimous. It's a slap on the wrist for an infraction that was ultimately meaningless.

It's also very much insider baseball. This is the kind of thing that, for about 230 years, went on inside the Capitol, and never saw the light of day, let alone the light of YouTube. There's that old saying that those who like politics and sausage should watch neither being made. There have protestations of outrage, followed by handshakes and people agreeing to disagree, forgiving each other, and moving on. Politics as usual. But a level of detail that most Americans have never seen before.

As for the criticism of how Lieberman actually ran his committee. Apparently he didn't do a stellar job of oversight during the last two years, when oversight of how the Bush Administration was handling homeland security would have been welcome. But whether or not he should be removed from that post because of a failure of leadership is an issue to be decided by members of that committee. And it would be decided by them if any of them decided to challenge him for the chairmanship. Apparently no one is, so that option is foreclosed. I am not as worried about oversight of the Obama administration's homeland security policies. I would like there to be oversight of Obama & Co., just on general principle, but I'm not as worried if there isn't. As for the fact that he didn't exercise oversight when Bush was in power: water under the bridge.

Lieberman disagrees profoundly with Obama on the war. A major committee chair disagrees with the president of his party. Yes, and? This is normal. And probably healthy, actually. One aspect of the Obama presidency that I am looking forward to is a healthy respect for dissent within the party. Guess what Lieberman will be providing.

Politically, there's a slightly odd logic at work. The fact that Lieberman survived this vote may, in fact, be good for the Democratic caucus, because it means that Lieberman is now indebted to his fellow Dems. That effectively makes it impossible for him to switch to the Republicans. It also reduces the tension between Lieberman and the other Dems, particularly Obama, because Obama made it clear that he doesn't hold grudges.

Get used to it, folks. This is the Obama style: no vengeance, or at least no vengeance for the sake of vengeance. Too many Democrats, progressives, and liberals are still in reaction mode against the Bush administration. Time to change the narrative, folks. Joe Lieberman is still a United States Senator, and it's easier to work with people when you actually get along with them. Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer. More important: whenever possible, convert your enemies into friends.

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