Losing Face

All politics is local,” Tip O’Neill used to say. This is another way to say that politics is about people, first and foremost.

By now, you know that Joe Lieberman has torpedoed the latest health care compromise in the Senate. There should be no surprise or shock about this development. Nate Silver has a typically good post about this, which I’m excerpting here:

So what do Lieberman and Nelson want? I think they’ve actually made this rather clear. They want liberals to give up the public option and not get anything for it. If liberals do, they’ll probably get a health care bill. If they don’t, they probably won’t.

…But of course, politics isn’t purely objective: it’s a people business, and now you have some people (liberals) who are going to lose a lot more face than they would have by making the same capitulation a week ago, and moreover will have to lose it to Joe Lieberman, a person whom they singularly detest. (emphasis in the original)

Nate’s right, of course. The capitulation was one that progressives were slowly coming around to making – see Chris Bowers here – and while it would’ve been a bitter pill to swallow, you at least had the benefit of having a health care reform bill move closer to becoming law, which is something that’s never happened.

Now? Now everything’s off the table.

There’s no way that Chris, for example, helps endorse a compromise. Indeed, last night he was calling for a challenge of not just Lieberman, but every member of the Democratic Caucus:

Since we have already defeated Lieberman in a Democratic primary, there is nothing more severe we can do as progressive activists to directly threaten Lieberman.  What we need to start doing is taking action against the Democrats who enable Lieberman and his ilk. If other Senate Democrats are not going to do anything about Lieberman taking control of the entire caucus, then really, what is the difference between those other Senators and Joe Lieberman?

Never thought I would echo George W. Bush, but we have reached the point where it is time to stop differentiating between problematic Senators like Joseph Lieberman and the other Senate Democrats who enable them. (emphasis added)

I feel the same way. What’s more, I’m to the point where I feel that if it’s a choice between losing face to Joe Lieberman, of all people, and seeing health care reform fail, I’d rather see health care reform fail.

For me to write those words pains me deeply. As some of you know, I worked with SEIU over the past year to make this (and other reforms, such as the Employee Free Choice Act) a reality. I don’t consider failure of cherished reforms something to be brandished lightly, so if I’m advocating this kind of scorched earth policy, you most definitely have a problem on your hands.

Here’s the thing: it’s not as if this was a surprise. Lieberman campaigned for McCain. Hell, he didn’t just campaign for him; when some of the worst stuff on the campaign took place, like accusing Obama of being a Marxist, Lieberman straight up said that it was something that needed looking into. Seriously.

It’s not like Lieberman didn’t know Obama; he mentored him when Obama was a brand new senator. Obama repaid that mentorship by endorsing Lieberman over Ned Lamont in 2006 during that primary, and by refusing to campaign with Lamont during the general election.

But, hey, who cares? He’s with us on everything but the war, after all. Oh, and if he acts up, we can always deal with it then. This according to Evan Bayh, who’s the proud inheritor of McKinley’s eclair backbone.


There can only be one path forward, and that’s to expel Lieberman from the caucus. Either he goes, or we do. And when we do, we’re not coming back – until he’s gone. If it means that health care reform crashes and burns, well, if it dies, it dies.

At this point, given his double crossing behavior, I suspect that he’s relaying confidential information from the Democratic Caucus to the Republican Caucus. If Reid, et al, are so worried about the integrity of the process, then there’s really only one option, and that’s expulsion. Yeah, yeah, I know, he’s the 60th Democratic vote, but if he can’t be counted to vote on health care reformespecially on an issue he ran on as Vice President! – then, really, what can you count on him for?

There’s one other reason, and that’s pride.

That’s the reason it’s going to be well-nigh impossible for people like me, Chris Bowers, and others to endorse any deal that includes Lieberman. We may not be pseudo-world-historical figures like the Senator from Sanctimony, CT, but we’re the people that made the remarkable Democratic resurgence possible. We slaved over and over for Democrats for eight years, and we’ve swallowed some pretty bitter pills.

Hell, I lost a marriage and put myself in the hospital more than once over politics. And the thing is, crazy as it sounds, I’d do it again.

But not if I have to take Lieberman in the bargain. We may not show it, but we’re proud people, even if Harry Reid isn’t. I can’t speak for Chris or others, but I refuse to be a chump. If Reid or Obama want to be punked, repeatedly, that’s their choice, not mine, and I refuse to be part of it.

After Lieberman was welcomed back into the caucus this time, we were assured that this time, he wouldn’t stray, and that if he did, there would be consequences.

Well, he’s strayed. Will there be consequences? Let’s just say I’m not holding my breath.

I know that Obama’s a tough guy, after a fashion. You don’t get to be President, let alone the first black President, unless you’re tough. There’s been too much Professor Obama, and not enough President Obama, this past year. I know that he’s given himself a B+ so far, but that’s got to be on a curve, ‘cause the results don’t bear it.

It’s time to trade in change we can believe in for ruthlessness we can believe in. And, by the way, that goes double for Rahm and Harry.

You know what to do. Expel Lieberman. There’s no other choice. Having him in the caucus is like having Mitch McConnell in there. Only ill has come of it.


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