Commentary Magazine


The Indispensible Senator

There is little doubt these days that Sen. Joe Lieberman is the most important man in the U.S. Senate. In a must-read Wall Street Journal interview he explains his objections to the public option and to ObamaCare more generally. As to the former, he observes:

It was always about how do we make the system more efficient and less costly, and how do we expand coverage to people who can’t afford it, and how do we adopt some consumer protections from the insurance companies . . . So where did this public option come from?. . . It doesn’t help one poor person get insurance who doesn’t have it now. It doesn’t compel one insurance company to provide insurance to somebody who has an illness. And . . . it doesn’t do anything to reduce the cost of insurance.

But it’s not just the public option. He’s not buying the supposed deficit neutrality of the Democrats’ scheme. He’s not buying that the Medicare cuts are for real or that the current bill will control costs. It sure sounds as though he’s going to vote to filibuster the sort of bill moving through the Senate. In short, Lieberman may be the only man, or at least the most resolute one, standing in the way of an atrocious government takeover of health care.

And on Afghanistan, Lieberman addresses concerns about the 18-month deadline to which many conservatives have objected:

But after probing Defense Secretary Bob Gates in a Senate hearing this week, he’s now more confident. “[Gates] compared it to the so-called ‘overwatch,’ which is really what we did in Iraq. As we felt the Iraqis were prepared to take over in certain areas, we pulled back but we didn’t pull out.” Mr. Lieberman believes this “pull back” is what begins in July 2011, and also felt he got assurances that it would start only in “uncontested” areas—and that there is no deadline for when all 30,000 troops must leave.

He cautions, however, that it’s up to the president to rally the country.

On these and other topics — Iran, the KSM trial, and the Patriot Act – Lieberman is once again front and center, arguing for a robust response to the threats America faces and opposing his Democratic former colleagues. One can argue it is only because the Senate generally depends on 60, not 51 votes, that Lieberman has such extraordinary and unique influence. But in truth, Lieberman has that influence because of the serious arguments he presents, his lack of political cant, and the moral clarity he brings to the debate. He has become the indispensable senator.