Joe Drifts Away

David Lightman, who spent nearly two decades covering Joe Lieberman when he was with the Hartford Courant, pens a fairly long farewell to the retiring heresiarch, with this nut graph:

He exits as a voice often without an echo, an independent without a comfortable spot in either political party, a man in the middle of a political system that prizes partisanship over moderation.

Well, that’s the nice way to put it. Here’s how I explained it in a TDS post when Lieberman announced his retirement early last year:

Lieberman’s trajectory since his appearance on the Democratic ticket in 2000 has been in the steady direction of representing traditions he’s misinterpreted, and constituencies that no longer exist. It was fitting that when he crossed every line of political propriety and endorsed the Republican ticket in 2008, he embraced his friend John McCain precisely when McCain was reinventing his own political identity at the behest of the conservative movement, which in turn vetoed Lieberman as a possible running-mate.

I’ve never been a Lieberman-hater like a lot of progressive bloggers (though I did recommend he get booted out of the Senate Democratic Caucus after his endorsement of McCain), and remain gratified by his late renaissance in helping repeal Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell. But treating the man as a victim of polarization is just wrong. He went his own way, repeatedly and deliberately, beginning with his more-Catholic-than-the-Pope advocacy of the Iraq War, intensifying with his refusal to respect the decision of Connecticut Democrats to deny him renomination in 2006, and then culminating in the McCain endorsement, which violated basic rules of political loyalty that existed long before the current era of polarization. If he was isolated, he was self-isolated, and he was never “independent” of the varying and mostly misguided causes he chose to embrace as his career descended into incoherence.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.