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Joe's Capital

I think the far Left is mad at Joe Lieberman for the wrong reasons today. Endorsing John McCain now--while the GOP field is still wide open--shows that he probably does believe everything he has to say about McCain. They have worked together on national security, immigration reform and environmental protection. McCain has shown a willingness to cross party lines, and as Lieberman argues, frequently puts country before party (which partly explains McCain's frequent struggles with the GOP base). All of these comments are fair and fine, and the fact that a Democrat endorsed a Republican with that kind of record shouldn't be so upsetting. Left-wing bloggers--who often claim to be the arbiters of what makes a good Democrat--certainly aren't pleased, but they don't vote for Lieberman.

However, the problem I see here is that Lieberman deceived the people who did in fact vote for him. Not just the hyper-partisan Nedheads, but all of the Democrats, Republicans and Independents who trusted the senator have now been misled and deceived. As The Nation reminded us yesterday, Lieberman, while on the stump in 2006, claimed he wanted "Democrats to be back in the majority in Washington and elect a Democratic president in 2008." This message--built around a "Connecticut first" type of strategy--was part of the senator's appeal. It allowed Republicans who were skittish about his social Liberalism to justify a vote for the man. A vote for a Democrat who "gets it" on terrorism felt like the right thing to do, and vindicated them for abandoning their own party in the general. It was above party. For the Democrats who stuck by him, it must have been a trying and arduous election. They were no doubt the subjects of derision by holier-than-thou activists seeking to reshape the Democratic Party in their own image. Their party loyalty was undoubtedly questioned, and today, they must feel like a collection of cuckolds. What they did, they were promised, was above party.

All of these voters were asked in 2006 to put Connecticut first, and now they're being asked to put country first. But all of Joe Lieberman's capital was built on the fact that 2006 was an anomaly, a necessary moment of independence in the face of radical and wrongheaded progressive activism. It was the wrong time, they were warned, for America to go to the Left. That was the bill of goods sold to them by the Independent Democrat, and the voters of Connecticut bought it.

For Lieberman, it was never essential that he be a "good Democrat," whatever that means. I'll leave that distinction to the Stollerists. But Lieberman misled the voters of Connecticut in 2006, and has probably exhausted his independent capital in the process. Bucking the party line on occasion can sometimes be a display of statesmanship. Doing it all of the time is not. At some point, you're simply playing for the other team without the jersey.

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