Joe Lieberman: Mush in the Middle

If there’s any inspiring political moral to be drawn from Joseph Lieberman’s career—and Joe Lieberman sure did let it be known that he liked morals—it is a negative one: actually, it’s not enough to give the people what they want.

Lieberman, clueless and self-satisfied to the last, announced his decision not to seek re-election by bragging today that he didn’t ”

fit comfortably into conventional political boxes

.” True, if by “conventional boxes” you mean “principles.” That was what made Lieberman such an unsettling, then off-putting, and eventually revolting figure: the only thing he stood for was that he wanted to be liked.

Comically, but also tragically, he was able for a long time to pass this off as independent-mindedness—this endless fumbling to grasp the wishes of the majority. Joe Lieberman was never afraid to cross the aisle, as long as it seemed likely that 51 percent of the voting public would be waiting for him there.

Call it belief in democracy. It was almost enough to make him a two-time,


vice-presidential nominee: a person who could be taken for anything except a leader. The

pitcher of warm spit

(or the

fluid of your choice

) incarnate. The essence of bipartisanship or nonpartisanship in a partisan system.

What else did it get him, and everyone? One presidential impeachment—well, not impeachment by Lieberman, personally, just a

nonbinding expression of disgust

with the sitting president, while the opposition party went ahead with impeachment. And then war, which seemed like a good idea, or at least a popular idea, at the time.

When the war stopped seeming like a good idea, Lieberman couldn’t let go of the belief that it was popular—that the silent majority, in its majestic stillness, would somehow drown out the petty grumbling of the voters. His rejection by the Democratic electorate had to mean acceptance by someone else. There was nothing to do but throw his whole body across the aisle, or at least fully into the aisle. He would go out as an Independent; that is, as willing to depend on whoever would have him.