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Lieberman's Moment

By Barry Casselman

The midterm elections provided radical left bloggers with, among many other results, their worst nightmare on Tuesday. They had succeeded, earlier in the campaign year, in helping defeat Joe Lieberman in the Democratic primary in Connecticut after viciously attacking him for months. The senator did not go away quietly. He got back into the race as an independent. The radical blogosphere kept up the attack, trying to promote their candidate, the hapless Ned Lamont, into a U.S. senate seat. It didn't work, and it wasn't close. With the help of Connecticut Republicans and independents, as well as many Democrats, Lieberman won a huge victory as the Democrats won back control of the Senate by one vote.

That vote is Lieberman's. He is now de facto the most powerful member of the Senate. That's because he will keep his promise to organize with the Democrats. But they will have to be very good to him. Whatever chairmanship he wants. Whatever he wants for Connecticut. If that does not happen, he can easily take a few steps in the Senate chamber and give control to the Republicans. No one will be able to complain. He would have kept his promise to vote for the Democrats, but it was his other promise that the voters of his state care most about, i.e., his promise to deliver for Connecticut. The senate Republicans would be glad to give him a chairmanship and whatever he wants for Connecticut. President Bush would be delighted to cooperate.

Lieberman's victory was not only personal. By replacing him on the Democratic ticket with Lamont, the left blogosphere and the Dean wing of the party also unintentionally rescued at least one and, possibly, two very vulnerable GOP Connecticut congressmen from defeat. Lucky for the bloggers that Democrats did well elsewhere in the country. They would have been blamed if the Connecticut seats had been the difference between majority and minority status.

The Democrats not only have to be very good to Joe Lieberman now, they have to be good to him into the indefinite future. No more attacks from his colleagues and no more sarcastic lectures from the DNC leadership. He already has considerable seniority and great political achievements, but his career had been winding down. Thanks to the blogs and the anti-war radicals, he is rejuvenated and will go on as a political lion.

At the same time, as an independent member of the senate, Senator Lieberman becomes the de facto leader of the centrist independent movement in the nation. This movement is not yet widespread, but it is growing. In Minnesota, the Independence Party (IP) candidate for governor got enough votes, for the third election in a row (including electing IP candidate Jesse Ventura as governor in 1998) , to deny the election to the Democratic candidate for governor. Independent candidates for governor in Texas, denied the re-elected governor a majority. As gridlock develops over the next two years, independent parties will begin to appear in many states. By having a man of Lieberman's stature succeed as an independent, the movement of the political center has received a large boost.

The radical blogosphere thought it would, in effect, take charge of the Democratic Party this year. With like-minded DNC chair Howard Dean, and intimidated presidential candidates doing their bidding, it did appear earlier in the year that they might succeed in moving the Democratic Party to the far left and into an extreme anti-war mode.

It is now plain to see that this direction would be fatal for the Democratic party, especially as it heads into the 2008 presidential elections controlling both houses of Congress and lacking, for the moment, a charismatic leader. Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico, himself a 2008 contender, did himself no favors by appearing to be a DNC syncophant when he asked Lieberman to give up after the primary this year. Other senators who caved in and endorsed Lamont now have repair work ahead. The few who refused to work against their colleague, such as Senator Joseph Biden and several others, look good by comparison.

But the Democrats not only needs Joe Lieberman for his critical vote. They need his already-established wise counsel on many issues, including foreign policy. The nation is at war. In such a time, a bipartisan spirit needs to be a component of a Washington in which the Congress is controlled by one party and the White House by the other party. That does not mean that the Democrats cannot be very critical of our performance in the post-military phase in Iraq, nor does it mean that the commander-in-chief can be indifferent to good counsel from his opposition. Both sides, now more than ever, need to work together to bring resolution, victory and enhanced national security from our struggle against worldwide terrorism.

No Democrat is in better position to make this bipartisanship work than Joe Lieberman.

Barry Casselman writes about national politics for Preludium News Service.

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