[cross posted at dailykos]
Remember when everyone was clamoring for Joe Lieberman’s head? After doing everything in his power to defeat Obama, including firing up the crowd at the Republican (!) National Convention, a lot of people wanted Senator Joe stripped of his prize Homeland Security Chairmanship, or worse. As you can see here, I was part of the “Kick Joe to the Curb” campaign myself.
You may also recall that one big reason why Lieberman was shown compassion, rather than the door, was because Obama publicly stated his recommendation to cut Joe some slack. At the time, I was disappointed in this response but here we are nearly a year later and we could really use Joe’s vote to pass health care reform. I know what you’re thinking: What good did leniency do us? He’s up to the same old tricks again, threatening to support a filibuster with his fellow Republicans. But here’s why things are different this time around…
Because we didn’t force Joe out of his leadership role, we still have leverage. It may not seem like much, but imagine what kind of bargaining position we’d be in if last November we had exiled Lieberman to the Senatorial equivalent of Siberia? Instead, today Harry Reid and the rest of the Democratic Caucus still have control over something Lieberman wants to keep. If push comes to shove, Reid can say “stand with us or kiss your chairmanship (and any future leadership role in a Democratically controlled Senate) goodbye, once and for all”.
Let’s face it – Lieberman is a stealth Republican. He may not care whether the Dems expel him, but I think we’re talking about a guy with some serious ego who’s not going to be happy spending the rest of his term with the standing of a Congressional intern. And exiling him from the Dem caucus would pretty much force him to officially become a Republican. As Rachel Maddow once observed, how do you think Lieberman will fare running for re-election as a Republican? In New England. :)
Win or lose, this situation suggests to me the wisdom of Obama’s decision last November. He realized he was going to need Lieberman’s vote on an important issue and when that time came, he’d need all the leverage he could get. He showed us that strategic planning beats retribution and revenge. Once again, Obama has shown himself to be not just a great politician, but a consummate chess player. Like all good chess players, he thinks several moves ahead and makes sure every move has a purpose.