Monday, December 21, 2009

Lowering This Bar Requires Digging a Hole

Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-The Hartford) was, for years, one of the more liberal members of the Senate. He fell for the arguments behind the Iraq War hook, line, and phony rationale, which left his still-liberal constituents in Connecticut less than pleased. So less then pleased were they, Joe lost the 2006 primary for his own seat, something that happens about as often as Dick Cheney buys a panhandler a steak dinner at Morton’s.

Lieberman ran as an Independent and won. (Technically, he ran on the Connecticut for Lieberman ticket, a party created just for him. More on that later.) Since then, Lieberman has repudiated virtually every liberal position he held in the past, notably, and most damagingly, his support for universal health care. The vestigial public option was stripped from the current bill as his demand, as he is this week’s 60th vote.

The Low Brass Correspondent thinks Lieberman is in the pocket of Connecticut’s insurance industry. I think Ezra Klein is closer: Lieberman is sticking it to liberals any way he can. (“But if you had attempted to forecast Lieberman's positions based on his ongoing grudge match with the liberals who defeated him in the 2006 primary, you'd have nailed it perfectly. He has, at every point, taken aim at the policies that liberals support, even when they are policies that Lieberman himself has supported.”) Why? Because they had the temerity to spurn him when he went off the rails? Politicians rarely show leadership; the country is governed by poll. Normally Lieberman would earn praise here for rejecting the general opinion of his constituents about the war and doing what he thought was right. He doesn’t, because he ignored the obvious caveat: showing such independence has risks. He was not prepared to accept those risks, and has blamed liberals for not following him ever since. That’s not taking a principled stand; it’s exercising a sense of entitlement.

Right now Lieberman couldn’t get the Connecticut electorate to vote him a brush if he was appointed public toilet cleaner. Even Connecticut for Lieberman has disowned him. He’s pissed, and this is his way of getting even. Lieberman doesn’t need insurance industry contributions anymore; the only thing he’s running for now is a job as their lobbyist, and he’s already getting in shape to carry their water.

The plan for this post was to declare Joe Lieberman the worst person in the Senate; good thing I read today’s paper first. The hands-down winner is Senator John Cornyn (R-Hell), who offered the following prayer on the floor of the Senate yesterday, in anticipation of this morning’s 1:00 AM health insurance reform vote: “What the American people ought to pray is that somebody can't make the vote tonight. That's what they ought to pray."

Hard to imagine he was talking about anyone other than Robert Byrd (D-Hospital); Ted Kennedy’s already dead. Byrd’s 92 years old, confined to a wheelchair, and probably shouldn’t be in the Senate anymore. Still, he is, and for Coburn to wish him—or any other senator—ill is beneath contempt.

There was a time when the untimely death or illness of a senator who would have cast a deciding vote for or against a filibuster would provoke a response from the opposition that reflected the fact the other side had the votes but for a calamity, and some senator who stood more for the body’s professed collegiality would have cross over, or at least have the vote delayed until the indisposed member was capable again. Today’s crew actively campaigns—not just campaigns, prays—for the misfortune of a colleague.

This country is in a crisis, in large part because the government is gridlocked, and that gridlock can be firmly laid at the feet of the Senate. Its rules were established to cater to an atmosphere of cooperation that no longer exists. It was expected its members would put aside their differences to accede to the general will except in extraordinary circumstances; now no bill can pass unless it has the 60 votes needed to kill a filibuster. This is an abomination of the intent of the body’s rules; unfortunately no one can change those rules except the diseased body itself, and it would rather protect its power to obstruct when in the eventual minority than do the people’s business.

This is where “God help us all,” might be a suitable comment, though the mere existence of the United States Senate argues against the existence of such a divine and merciful being.

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