Joey, We Hardly Knew Ye

Those sounds you heard a few days ago turned out to be the exploding heads of Connecticut Democrats. During his announcement last week that he would not seek re-election, U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman said that his politics were those of John F. Kennedy, a comparison that sent the state's liberals into fits of enraged hysteria. I have no doubt that Mr. Lieberman sincerely believes what he said; in thirty years of state and national politics, no one has ever doubted his integrity. I suspect, however, that the maverick former Democrat also relished the opportunity to goad his old friends (and enemies) on the left.

Mr. Lieberman said that Kennedy's policies—civil rights and social security, pro-growth economics and a strong national defense—were Lieberman's policies and that, like Mr. Lieberman, President Kennedy might not "fit neatly into any of today's partisan political boxes." True, President Kennedy was initially distrusted by his party's left wing, not least because of his father's previous reactionary antics. Still it is hard to imagine Jack Kennedy endorsing the G.O.P. presidential nominee, as Mr. Lieberman did in 2008. Among other things, Kennedy knew that his constituents wouldn't stand for it. Perhaps that's how Mr. Lieberman is most different from his political hero. He has suffered in recent years from an acute political tone deafness of the sort that never afflicted Kennedy. As a result, Lieberman made some really bad political decisions, like speaking at the 2008 G.O.P. convention—perhaps the worst self-inflicted political injury since former House Speaker Tom Foley sued his own constituents.


One person's tone deafness, of course, is another person's profile in courage. Loyalty in friendship is a virtue, supporters might say, and Lieberman was simply helping a friend, John McCain, in 2008. Similarly, Mr. Lieberman's "this-is-what-I-believe-the-consequences-be-damned" style of politics has a certain and admirable integrity. And while his Kennedy comparison is a stretch, there is some truth in it. Kennedy belonged to a time when Democrats and Republicans could stand to be in the same room together. People on both sides of the aisle not only could work together, but wanted to. Most of the last century's progressive social legislation—not to mention civil rights—came about through coalitions of Democrats and liberal Republicans, the latter currently an endangered species, the political equivalent of the Klamath Chinook salmon. The evisceration of the GOP's left wing by the Reagan revolutionaries, as well as the defection of the Democrat's right wing to the G.O.P., has indeed led to a more stridently partisan, rigidly ideological politics. In Washington and elsewhere, moderation and compromise are viewed as vices and every political fight, however marginal, is an Ali/Frazier slugfest, frantically and cynically hyped by the Don Kings of cable news.

"I have not always fit comfortably into conventional political boxes—Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative," Lieberman said in his remarks. The problem with American politics at the moment is not that there are boxes, but that there are too few of them. One sometimes gets the impression that most people in politics see only two boxes, right and wrong. The relative ideological homogeneity in both parties has led to a kind of intellectual entrenchment that has dangerously impoverished our discourse. In a political system in which third parties are hard to start and even harder to keep going, this new, all-or-nothing-at-all politics, one that values purity of intention well above effectiveness of action, will lead inevitably to political stagflation: the nation's business will come to a halt while the price of inaction grows daily.

Farewell, Mr. Lieberman. I have no idea whether you were the next John F. Kennedy. I doubt it. I sure do miss the old John Kennedy though, as well as the more effective and human politics that he practiced.


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Stephen SCHEWE
8 years 1 month ago
Senator Lieberman is far more right than wrong in comparing himself to JFK, who campaigned on the supposed "missile gap" in 1960, selected LBJ as his VP despite the opposition of Northern liberals, pursued a hawkish foreign policy as President, and embraced the moral verities (at least in public) of faith, prudence, and public service.  If JFK was never tempted to speak at a Republican convention or to endorse a Republican, perhaps it was because he experienced so much more success politically, and he felt more at home among his fellow Democrats.  If he'd lived, what would the pragmatic, cold warrior JFK have made of George McGovern's nomination in 1972?  Not much, I imagine.  It's hard to believe it's been 50 years - the days before the battles over civil rights, Vietnam, and abortion fundamentally realigned the memberships of our political parties.  I do think JFK would have liked Obama a great deal, and would have admired his skill as a campaigner and president; I suspect privately Senator Lieberman does as well.
Vince Killoran
8 years 1 month ago
I see Steve Schewe's point. Labor leaders such as George Meany & Walter Reuther liked JFK personally (and he did appoint labor lawyer Arthur Goldberg as Labor Secretary), but Kennedy did little for labor and liberals with the exception of the Equal Pay Act of 1963. He  took bold stands on civil rights late in his life that liberal Democrats & Republicans (remember them?) embraced. Steve's quick mention of "faith, prudence, and public service," however, isn't clear-JFK wasn't much of a Catholic ("Oh no, Mass every Sunday," he groaned upon his election);his prudence had mostly to do with his spartan diet and near-teetotaler habits (cool headed liberals were popular back then). As for public service, well, that was central to the optimistic, dominate liberal mindset of the period.

The question about McGovern should be re-cast: would JFK endorse RFK's brand of liberalism in '68?  I doubt it (I don't think RFK ca. early '60s would either!). Different context, different voters. 

I happen to think that Lieberman is neither bold or principled.  He's a painfully self-absorbed centrist with a reckless foreign policy record. 
8 years 1 month ago
I like Lieberman, as I do generally any politician still willing to goad the prevailing notions of ideology.  I was happy he beat out that "liberal" billionaire (aren't they all?) from Greenwich, CT (LOL!!).  My problem with this analysis is imbedded in the following:

"The evisceration of the GOP's left wing by the Reagan revolutionaries, as well as the defection of the Democrat's right wing to the G.O.P., has indeed led to a more stridently partisan, rigidly ideological politics."

This line essentially repeats liberal dogma that the break down in "civility" is the result (solely) of the Regean Revolution & the rise of social conservatives.  Of course what is ignored is that by and large the rise of the social conservatives occurred in response to the radicalization of politics that roiled the DEMOCRATIC party in the '60s and '70s.  But that's NEVER a factor mentioned as a cause of the current "incivility", largely because I suspect many of the current emince grises pontificating were part of this social upheaval that rent asunder long-held beliefs that undergird the political commitments of BOTH liberals and conservatives (such as basic constitutional interpretation).
8 years 1 month ago
"He's a painfully self-absorbed centrist with a reckless foreign policy record."

He can't just have a different point of view, huh, Vince?  You gotta assume the worst about anyone with whom you disagree.  Liberal open-mindedness and diversity at its best!
Vince Killoran
8 years 1 month ago
I'm not assuming anything- I can explain Senator Lieberman's positions and why I disagree with them.  That's the American Way, which I thought conservatives embraced.

I'm surprised you have wasted blog space to criticize someone for stating that they disagree with an elected official. Did you want to actually weigh in on Matt Malone's argument?

8 years 1 month ago
I think there's a difference between explaining and name-calling (saying someone is not ''principled'' and he is ''self-absorbed'', etc.) as I tried to express last week when you broadly dismissed pro-lifers with condescending assumptions about their motives.  If you stopped at explaining you'd do your argument more credit; alas you always seem to take the last step toward rhetorical flame-throwing in which you convert an explanation into a derisive tear into another's character, intelligence, motivations, etc.

My thoughts on the piece itself is posted above your original post.
Vince Killoran
8 years 1 month ago
Jeff-You're hardly the arbiter of mannerly blogging. Too often you & others label other bloggers, question whether they are really Catholic, etc.  I characterized Leiberman based on his public record-I did not call him names.  Has he taken bold or principled stands?  I'm talking about an elected official, not fellow AM bloggers (unlike much of vitriolic denunciations I read from others in this space).

Finally, since you insist on renewing the fruitless exchange from last week, I did not dismiss the pro-lifers: I asked someone to explain the way they plan to re-criminalize abortion.  Not a single person could do so.  Are you able to do that now?
Vince Killoran
8 years 1 month ago
p.s. I do have one clarification: I should have been clear that my comment about Lieberman not being bold, principled, etc. was in reaction to his continual bragging that he was just those things. I wasn't pulling these characterizations out of thin air (and, unlike some talk radio folks when they discuss Democratic politicians, fabricating conspiracies about their religious identity or there country of origin).
Tom Maher
8 years 1 month ago
Joe Lieberman early retirement from Democratic politics is just more evidence that the Democrat party is controlled by its extreme left wing at least in the Northeast.

Lieberman has reached a political dead end.  He can not get his pary's nomination for the U.S. Senate as was demonstrated in 2006.  He would be forced once againt to run as an independent.  But this time around there is a strong well-known well-finaced Republican ready to run and who would divide the vote in a way that a Independent could not win.  In a three way race Lieberman would assure a Republican win for the U.S. Senate seat. 

As it is it is very likely this seat become up a Republican win in 2012.  The Democrats will faithfully nominate the most radical among themselves with or without a primary and therby lose the race.

Democrats just do not notice or suspect that their year by year drift further left is alientaing more and more voters.  The irony with Joe Lieberman is that he was the Democrat vice-presidential nominee of 2000 who did very well as acandidate.  Now the party insiders will have nothing to do with him.  But who does the Democratic party have to run successfully even liberal bastions of the Northeast like New Jersey, and Massachusetts which have recently elected conservative Republicans?  The Democratic party is becoming very imbred with candidates and policies that are not viable and in fact often outright obnoxious.

Who can forget the 2004 campaign of Vermont Governor Howard Dean for President.  Dean was on the cover of Time magazine and Newsweek several times as the inevitable 2004 Democratiic party presidential candidate with his very liberal anti-war stands.  But when it cam to actual voting outside of the Northeast - Iowa - he was not acceptable even to Democrats.  Deans's well-finaced campaign fell apart for lack of Democrats voting for him.  Dean lost the nomination in every state except Vermont.  Yet the media was sure that he was the ultimate and only candidate possible. 

Joe Lieberman inability to get the Democratic nomination is a sign of extreme ill haelth in the Democratic party in Conneticut   How amusing will it be when the Democrats nominate another prepy liberal from Greenwich or some other unknown person who is completely unrepresentative of most citizens?  The Northeast Democratic party's candidate selection mechanism is badly broken by its own extreme left wing biases.  The Democratic party has become its own worst enemy.
david power
8 years 1 month ago
Yes ,Yes Christ is risen!Thanks for reminding us Father Malone.


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