Commentary Magazine


Where’s the Reassessment of Joe Lieberman?

Now that John McCain has chosen Sarah Palin as his Vice Presidential running mate, will the popular assessment of Joe Lieberman change? Lieberman was on McCain’s VP shortlist, an impressive feat for man who was the Democratic Party’s Vice Presidential nominee in 2000. Given his appeal to moderate voters (and, considering his public religiosity, to the evangelicals who make up the part of the GOP base that would supposedly would have been so devastated by his pick as well) and his close friendship with McCain (a story in today’s New York Times says that McCain wanted to choose Lieberman but was ultimately dissuaded by advisors), it seems that the only thing preventing a Lieberman VP nod was his voting record, principally, his support for abortion rights. Picking Lieberman would have shaken up the race even more than the Palin choice did, if that’s imaginable.

Why should the fact that Lieberman isn’t today the presumptive GOP VP nominee force a reassessment of his character? Because ever since he decided to run against Ned Lamont after losing the 2006 Democratic Senate primary, the read on Lieberman in hostile quarters is that he’s a selfish and moralizing hack more concerned with his own personal fate than that of his political party or country (as opposed to every other politician…). Now, had Lieberman really wanted to further his own political career, wouldn’t he have done everything possible to become John McCain’s VP nominee? And to get the VP nod, he could have announced his reversal on abortion (or at least say that he would support conservative judicial appointees) and maybe a few other issues that conservatives view as deal-breakers as soon as it became clear that McCain would be the GOP nominee earlier this year. Indeed, a Lieberman flip-flop on abortion (and it seems that was the only issue the Republican base really cared enough about to oppose a Lieberman selection) would have been relatively convincing (in the realm of flip-floppery), given Lieberman’s Orthodox Judaism. John presented a strong case for Lieberman a few weeks ago, but the “Independent Democrat” was not going to be chosen as long as he supported pro-choice policies.

But Lieberman didn’t alter his position on any issue. Will the Left at least recognize Lieberman’s consistency on all the domestic issues — even as these stances arguably prevented him from becoming the Vice Presidential nominee, again — as a virtue? Given that their criticism of him has always been vicious and intellectually lazy (using the word “hack” to describe someone who holds onto the same views, some might even say stubbornly, betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the epithet), don’t count on it.

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