DOES LIEBERMAN OWE OBAMA?…. By most indications, Barack Obama’s magnanimity towards Joe Lieberman played a rather direct role in Lieberman keeping his committee chairmanship. It’s hard to say with any certainty what would have happened in yesterday’s caucus meeting if the president-elect had been less charitable, but if there was any real support for holding Lieberman accountable for his conduct, it dissipated in the wake of Obama’s graciousness.
With that in mind, A.L. argued that there may be a silver lining to yesterday’s developments.
It’s pretty clear from the statements of various parties, including Lieberman himself, that Obama’s expressed desire to bury the hatchet was instrumental in allowing Lieberman to retain his chairmanship. Obama didn’t have to do this. Lieberman campaigned for his opponent and said a lot of unfair things about Obama during the campaign. If Obama had allowed Lieberman to be stripped of his chairmanship, no one would have blamed him.
Everyone on Capitol Hill and in the press corps knows this. So, in a very real sense, Lieberman is now beholden to Obama. He’s owes him one. And there may be times in the next few years when President Obama needs to cash that in, when he needs Lieberman’s vote on a key piece of legislation or needs Lieberman’s help to convince people like John McCain and Lindsay Graham to break ranks and join the Democrats. And when that happens, President Obama will have an important chip to play. He’ll be able to call Lieberman into the Oval Office, sit him down, and say, “Look, Joe, remember when the Senate was voting to remove you from your chairmanship? I stepped up for you then. I need you to step up for me now.”
Maybe. The reason I’m skeptical, though, is that Lieberman hasn’t demonstrated any loyalty before, and I doubt he will now.
Let’s not forget, Lieberman owed Obama and Democrats before. Lieberman begged Obama to come campaign for him in 2006, and he did. Lieberman begged the leadership to let him keep his seniority and committee positions, even after he ran against the Democratic nominee in Connecticut, and they did. He was in their debt for the last two years, and how did he repay them? How much respect did he show? Lieberman’s offensive conduct speaks for itself.
And therein lies the rub: Lieberman expected to get away with it, and he did. So, yes, he once again owes Obama and is in the Democratic Party’s debt. But he’s also seen firsthand that there are no consequences for betrayal. With the vote yesterday, the Senate Democratic caucus gave Lieberman no incentive to be a team player.
I’d like to think Obama may have some leverage with Lieberman in the future, but if Lieberman had a sense of loyalty, he wouldn’t have gotten into this position in the first place.