One of the oddest tropes on the Democratic liberal-left is the reference to Sen. Joseph Lieberman as a “hack,” which has been a fairly steady refrain on The New Republic‘s blog for two years now. No politician on earth would have wanted to take the journey Lieberman has taken — from his party’s vice-presidential nominee in 2000 to defeat in a primary battle in his home state six years later. To hold views so discordant with your long-time comrades and colleagues is the sort of thing that can cause even the strongest of men to lose faith in his own views. And most politicians, who must balance conviction with prudence, would go with prudence in Lieberman’s situation and work to stifle his difference with his party’s orthodoxy. That is precisely what keeps an actual hack in line — the fear of being out of step and losing favor with those who have favors to dispense.
By remaining steadfast on the war in Iraq when others in his party fled their vote and then blamed their inconstancy on the supposed “lies” of the administration. And by refusing to join the jackal-like feast on George W. Bush’s reputation, Lieberman earned the hatred of many fellow Democrats. That hatred caused a hugely rich man in his state to spend millions of his own money to oust Lieberman from his own party’s nomination after serving three full terms as senator.
And yet there he remained, and remains, unbending. This is the opposite of hackery. It is the antithesis of hackery. It is the quality everyone says he yearns for in Washington — principled consistency, a willingness to work across the aisle in a bipartisan fashion, and a refusal to kowtow to the loudest voices merely because they are so loud. Last night, at the annual dinner of the Commentary Fund, Lieberman said he remained a Democrat precisely because he believes the strong foreign policy he espouses must have a bipartisan foundation. Interesting, and telling, that those who believe him to be a partisan turncoat use the mot injuste to describe him.