Joe Lieberman surely wouldn’t want the endorsement of National Review, but it’s hard to deny that he makes a lot of sense for a member of the current field of Democratic presidential contenders. Consider some of Lieberman’s statements from the latest Democratic debate, held Sunday afternoon near Des Moines, Iowa:
On the issue of whether the invasion of Iraq was a good thing, Lieberman said, “Let me say that the capture of–overthrow and then capture of–Saddam Hussein has made America safer and made the world safer.” Later, just for good measure, Lieberman added: “I don’t know how anybody could say that we’re not safer with a homicidal maniac, a brutal dictator, an enemy of the United States, a supporter of terrorism, a murderer of hundreds of thousands of his own people, in prison instead of in power.” The “anybody” to which Lieberman referred was, of course, Democratic frontrunner Howard Dean.
On the continuing value of the Iraq invasion, Lieberman said, “We have to stay the course in Iraq now and continue to build a stable, modernizing, democratizing country there. If we do that, we will not only have won a victory in the war on terrorism because we will have shown the Arab world what happens as a result of American intervention, that you live better, freer lives, but we will have sent the message to all the other terrorists and tinhorn dictators there, like Khaddafi and even like the Iranians, who are beginning to cooperate, that we mean business.” Building on that, Lieberman said the doors to progress in the Middle East “are open now, in part because of our victory in Iraq.”
On the issue of President Bush’s tax cuts, which Dean claimed has actually penalized the middle class, Lieberman said, “I want to respond to Howard Dean’s outrageous statement on middle-class tax cuts–that is, to protect the middle-class tax cuts that he wants to repeal and that a lot of us Democrats fought for in Congress over the last three years. I don’t know which is worse, that he wants to repeal the tax cuts, or that he won’t admit that they ever existed. You ask the average middle-class person–here in Iowa, the average family of four saved $1,800 a year under those tax cuts.”
In fairness, it should be noted that Lieberman had some critical things to say about George W. Bush. He wants, for example, to cut away the top end of the Bush tax cuts. And he has some criticisms of the way the administration handled post-victory Iraq. But the truth is, a number of Lieberman’s statements could have been written by the Bush-Cheney reelection campaign.
And Lieberman didn’t stop there. He also challenged Dean on the issue of Dean’s gubernatorial records in Vermont, which are currently sealed at Dean’s direction.
“Howard Dean, every day you tell people across America they have the power, and you’re right,” Lieberman said. “You have the power, with one stroke of the pen, to open up your records to public view.” Just to be helpful, Lieberman held up a pen.
Dean declined to go along, explaining that he will let a judge decide what to release.
“That is an unsatisfactory and disappointing answer,” Lieberman said. “Why should you have to force a judge to force you to do what you know is right?”
“Joe, a judge should decide that, because if we decide it, nobody is going to believe us,” Dean said.
“You are ducking the question,” Lieberman said.
Even after the debate, Lieberman didn’t let up on Dean. Speaking to reporters in the press filing center, Lieberman hit Dean on security problems at the Vermont Yankee nuclear-power plant. “Will Howard Dean be able to convince the American people that we are safe, after the largest terrorist target in his state was last in the country in security at ten years that he was governor?” Lieberman asked.
What Lieberman is doing–aside from trying to win the nomination for himself–is attempting to prevent his party from driving itself over a cliff. In other debates, he has reminded his fellow candidates that they face disaster if they abandon the type of Democratic Leadership Council-style positions that were so successful for Bill Clinton.
“This campaign for the Democratic nomination is fundamentally a referendum within our party about whether we’re going to build on the Clinton transformation in our party in 1992,” Lieberman said at last month’s debate in New Hampshire. That transformation, he continued, “reassured people we were strong on defense, we were fiscally responsible, we cared about values, we were interested in cutting taxes for the middle class and working with business to create jobs.”
That’s the kind of thinking Howard Dean dismisses as Democrats trying to be “Bush Lite.” And indeed, these days Lieberman’s is an increasingly lonely voice. He is not even contesting Iowa, and is far behind in the polls in New Hampshire. But in the end, when it’s all over on November 3, he might be the Democrat most entitled to say “I told you so.”