Posted by: mutantpoodle | November 19, 2008

On Obama and Lieberman

obama_lieberman_have_private_chatI’ve already expressed my anger at the Senate Democratic Caucus for yesterday’s capitulation to Joe Lieberman. Many others in the blogosphere are (rightly, I think) pissed off.

In the intervening day, I started to think about Barack Obama’s role in all this – his stated desire to keep Lieberman in the Democratic caucus (which often was reported, incorrectly, I believe, as his desire to have Lieberman keep his chairmanship of Homeland Security / Governmental Affairs), and the extent to which that limited the options available to Senate Democrats.

Now, I’d be thrilled if Connecticut implemented a recall protocol so Joe Lieberman could go home and the Democrats could have a progressive voice in the Nutmeg state’s junior Senator. But I am highly unlikely to be so thrilled.

And I had been wishing that Barack Obama had let the Senate Democrats do whatever they wanted to do, without his input.

And then I thought back to an interview Barack Obama gave to Joe Klein this fall where he talked about this conversation with David Petraeus.

Klein: Let me ask you about a situation like that. I have been collecting accounts of your meeting with David Petraeus in Baghdad. And you had [inaudible] after he had made a really strong pitch [inaudible] for maximum flexibility. A lot of politicians at that moment would have said [inaudible] but from what I hear, you pushed back.

Barack Obama: I did. I remember the conversation, pretty precisely. He made the case for maximum flexibility and I said you know what if I were in your shoes I would be making the exact same argument because your job right now is to succeed in Iraq on as favorable terms as we can get. My job as a potential commander in chief is to view your counsel and your interests through the prism of our overall national security which includes what is happening in Afghanistan, which includes the costs to our image in the middle east, to the continued occupation, which includes the financial costs of our occupation, which includes what it is doing to our military. So I said look, I described in my mind at least an analogous situation where I am sure he has to deal with situations where the commanding officer in [inaudible] says I need more troops here now because I really think I can make progress doing x y and z. That commanding officer is doing his job in Ramadi, but Petraeus’s job is to step back and see how does it impact Iraq as a whole.

My argument was I have got to do the same thing here. And based on my strong assessment particularly having just come from Afghanistan were going to have to make a different decision. But the point is that hopefully I communicated to the press my complete respect and gratitude to him and Proder who was in the meeting for their outstanding work. Our differences don’t necessarily derive from differences in sort of, or my differences with him don’t derive from tactical objections to his approach. But rather from a strategic framework that is trying to take into account the challenges to our national security and the fact that we’ve got finite resources.

The lesson is this: I sit here, in my office, and opine to those who choose to stop by here. I write letters and make phone calls to my various representatives, urging them to do what I think is the right thing.

But I do not have to be President.

One of the lessons I have learned (and mentioned a few times already) from observing our President-elect for the better part of a year is this: Barack Obama doesn’t do anything without having thought it through. I am sure if he felt that tossing Joe Lieberman into a shark tank wearing a bacon suit would increase his chances of delivering on the agenda he wants to implement, that Joe Lieberman would be in said shark tank right now.

Put another way, I don’t think Barack Obama is overly sentimental.

Clearly, Obama thinks this result is in his best interests. And much as I enjoy the shark tank imagery, I am beginning to think he’s correct.

Here’s why.

Joe Lieberman has four years before he either faces an Connecticut electorate that, at the moment, would vote to have the Tampa Bay Rays keep the Red Sox out of the World Series again rather than have Lieberman continue as their Senator.

He will either (a) run for re-election or (b) retire.

If it’s (b), then the next four years are about his legacy, and for someone with an ego the size of Lieberman’s, that’s no small issue. He can redeem himself by being a constructive, cooperative, “bi-partisan” Senator, helping grease the wheels for Obama’s various initiatives, or he can be remembered as someone so consumed with rage at his defeat in the 2006 Democratic Primary that he became irrationally obstructionist. (Keep in mind that Lieberman’s substantive beef with Obama – Iraq – is pretty much off the table with the new SOFA that’s currently being debated by the Iraqi Parliament.)

If it’s (a) – if Lieberman tempts fate and runs for re-election, his only hope is to be Barack Obama’s best friend for the next four years. He’d probably still lose, but he could keep it close. All his other options doom him to a merciless drubbing.

Nothing in this analysis suggests that I think Joe Lieberman is honest or trustworthy – he has proven, in fact, quite the opposite.

However, he is extremely interested in the fortunes of Joe Lieberman, and I think Barack Obama knows it, and has put him in a position where Lieberman will be reliable enough for Barack Obama. Not out of gratitude – after all, Obama campaigned for him in 2006, and look where that got him – but out of the small-minded selfishness that has motivated Joe Lieberman every day since his primary defeat.

So while I wished that Lieberman had been booted from his committee (even if it meant losing his unreliable vote in the Democratic caucus), I don’t think Barack Obama was wrong. And not because I believe this is a kumbayah moment in American history, but because I think he has boxed Joe Lieberman in as much as Joe Lieberman can be boxed in.

We will see, very soon, if I am right.

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