OFF THE GRID

Joe Lieberman Is a Piece of Work

Dec 15, 09 | 10:37 AM   byMichael Wolff
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What’s Joe Lieberman’s game?

Or, what do you do when you’re cut loose from colleagues, standing, and future?

He must be, at this point, among the most reviled figures among the great majority of Democratic voters in the state of Connecticut (which would be the majority of voters in the state). He has two years left before inevitable defeat.

He is, to Democrats in the Senate, more and more confounding and infuriating. He is neither reliable, nor truthful, nor reasonable, nor predictable.

Now, having indicated he was on board with a general compromise on the Senate’s health-care bill, he is balking. It seems like a choreographed balk. He went along until right up until everybody seemed to let their guard down, until a consensus seemed to be achievable, and then he reversed course, making himself the focus of the debate.

It’s a notable play. The more conventional wisdom about being censured by your party is to mind your manners and try to rebuild a semblance of trust and normalcy. Lieberman’s problem in 2006 was the war; on most other issues he was a centrist Democrat. Coming up for re-election, he had a reasonable shot at mending fences.

But he went the other way, turning himself into a crypto-right-winger. Sometimes it seems just utterly defiant, and punitive—he’s out to make his party pay for his humiliation. Other times, it seems demented, sociopathic even. And other times, a truer self seems emergent, as though he was a sleeper in the Democratic Party. And still at other times, he’s something like a practical joker, with a decided cruel streak.

I would guess that it is partly about self-expression. He has the attention of the public for another two years and has decided, no matter how ineloquent he is by nature (and he is one of the great verbal plodders), to try to say something, however eccentric, irritating, vain, petty, or spiteful.

And what are the Democrats to do with this?

They’ve tried to triangulate, threatening to cut him out of the perks of seniority. They’ve tried to shame him with their disdain. So far, they’ve held back on perhaps their biggest gun, a disavowal by Al Gore, his former running mate. But, even in that, I suspect the Democrats understand that any attention feeds Joe Lieberman at this point. Psychologically he has become all about the diss. His way of overcoming the fact of his ostracism is to be ever more ostracized, ever more vital in his role of one-man opposition.

Most politicians are easy to forget. Joe Lieberman, however irascibly and disturbingly, is out to earn his place in history.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at
VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at michael@newser.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: www.twitter.com/NewserColumns.
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