Lieberman

Lieberman

From the Hartford Courant:

“Senate Democrats will decide by secret ballot Tuesday whether to take away Sen. Joe Lieberman’s chairmanship of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee — a post from which he oversees U.S. security issues, as well as the operations of a wide segment of the federal government.”

To my mind, the crucial issue here is whether or not Lieberman has done a good job as chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. If a good chair had done what he did — if, say, Henry Waxman had unaccountably spent the summer and fall campaigning against Democratic nominees for President and the Senate — I’d be torn. But Lieberman has not been a good chair:

“A Senate hearing Friday took aim at former Halliburton subsidiary KBR, whose contract work was blamed by witnesses for the electrocution of up to 13 Americans. But the heated hearing also offered ammunition against another frequent target of the left: Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn.

The hearing was held by the Democratic Policy Committee — the seventh DPC has held on profiteering and waste in Iraq since Democrats regained control of Congress in 2006.

Senate Democrats began the hearings in 2004 to highlight what they called a failure by the Republican-led Senate to oversee war spending. That the partisan panel continues despite Democratic control of the chamber strikes some lawmakers, aides and watchdog groups as a sign of Lieberman’s failure to aggressively oversee the Bush administration.

“The reason the DPC is doing this is because Lieberman isn’t,” said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “I think it would just kill him to say anything negative about the Bush administration,” Sloan said.

Democratic Policy Committee Chairman Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., said he is “not critical of anyone” but called the DPC hearings “the only way for Americans to hear about these issues.””

Lieberman, whose committee is responsible for investigating government, declined to hold hearings on the response to Katrina, saying he didn’t want to “play gotcha”. Likewise, he didn’t want to investigate Blackwater or other Iraq contractors. As far as the oversight part of his committee chairmanship, he was missing in action.

Oversight matters. It mattered during the Bush administration, and it will matter during an Obama administration. (Naturally, I’d be happier if Obama simply never made any mistakes, but I’m not counting on it, and so I want to have a backup plan.) Since Lieberman has shown no signs of wanting to exercise this function, he should not chair the committee responsible for it. Democrats should not be agonizing over this choice; they should be delighted that they have an excuse to remove a dysfunctional chair from an important committee.

There are two more reasons to remove Lieberman from this position. First, suppose Lieberman did decide to get serious about investigating the Obama administration. Given both his complete failure to exercise oversight over the Bush administration and his opposition to Obama’s candidacy, it would be very hard to have confidence in his fairness, and very easy for liberals to dismiss anything he said against an Obama administration. And this matters: precisely because I want Obama to be held accountable for any mistakes he makes, I want to make sure that whoever runs this committee is actually fair and credible. I think that one lesson we can draw from the Republicans’ time in control of the Congress is that you do your party, your President, and your country no favors at all by supporting them blindly. I therefore think that it would be a huge mistake to put someone whose impartiality is open to serious question in charge of this committee.

Second, Lieberman lent his name to The Third Jihad: Radical Islam’s Vision For America., a paranoid film about Islamists’ attempt to destroy America from within. From its ‘About’ page:

“There’s a war going on and the major battles take place right here in America. It’s a hidden war against the freedom and values we all take for granted. The enemy is taking advantage of our country’s democratic process, and using it to further its own aims.

Most people, busy with their daily struggles don’t even realize there’s a war.

And that’s just the way the Radical Islamists would like things to remain.

The Third Jihad is the ground breaking film that reveals the truth. It exposes the destructive aims of Radical Islam and its mounting threat for America and the world. It covers all the major players– the radical extremists and the leaders trying to stop them. The Third Jihad will update you on the most urgent issue of our time in ways you can’t find in the media.”

I’ve watched the clips available on the film’s web page. They are full of alarmist accusations against a lot of Muslims and Muslim groups, backed up by things that it would be a real stretch to call “evidence”. I therefore agree with Adam Serwer on this one: if Lieberman believes this stuff, he is incapable of telling the difference between ordinary Muslims and terrorists. And that should be an absolute disqualification for a chair of the committee that oversees homeland security, since both our security and the rights of American Muslims depend on our getting this distinction right.

I would not support naming someone who had lent his name to the Council of Conservative Citizens to a committee that oversaw the enforcement of civil rights law. I would not put Lt. Gen. Boykin (“I knew that my God was a real god, and his was an idol”) in charge of a committee on religious toleration. This case does not seem to me to be appreciably different, and so I think the same principles apply.