Our series on Leonhardts worthwhile piece: Continues tomorrow and Monday.
WHAT DID LIEBERMAN PROPOSE AND WHEN DID HE PROPOSE IT: Here at THE HOWLER, we couldnt care less about Tiger Woods. In a similar vein, were less mesmerized by the Lieberman matter than much of the liberal world seems to be.
For some of our reasons, see below. But first:
A political movement is in big trouble when its passions align with those of Gail Collins. This morning, Collins simpers her way through a column on Joe, a column which starts out like this:
COLLINS (12/17/09): Let us contemplate the badness of Joe Lieberman.
Who would have thought that this holiday season wed be obsessed with the senator from Connecticut? Really, I was hoping it would be more about shopping for mittens on the Internet.
Liebermans apparently successful attempt to hijack health care reform and hold it hostage until it had been amended into something that liberals couldnt stomach has mesmerized the nations political class.
Collins is obsessed with the senator from Connecticut. Shes mesmerized, like the rest of her fatuous class. Might we repeat our controlling principle:
A political movement is in big trouble when its outlooks and passions align with those of a clown like Gail Collins.
Lets talk about policy:
For ourselves, we would prefer a strong, robust, far-reaching public option. Wed be happy to see Medicare open to those who are 55though we cant help wondering, as few liberals have done, if that proposed $7600 per-person buy-in wasnt the latest large rip-off. But our analysts have groaned this week as the liberal world, like the fatuous Collins, has indulged itself inhas distracted itself withthe highly pleasurable badness of Joe. This pleasing theme has produced some real nonsense, including the highlighted absurdity from someone as smart as E. J. Dionne:
DIONNE (12/15/09): The undemocratic Senate, which vastly over-represents conservative states and rural interests, has become even more undemocratic by the over-use of the filibuster, which gives tiny minoritiessometimes a minority of onethe power to kill proposals supported by the vast majority of its members. Thats why there was no time to lose during the Finance Committees leisurely negotiations. But that time was lost, and so was the public option and the Medicare buy-in, at least in the Senate.
It hurts so good when we say it! (Rachel Maddow also said it, on Monday night, but she and her staff are quite weak on such topics.) But plainly, the Senate filibuster doesnt give tiny minoritieslet alone a minority of onethe power to kill proposals supported by the vast majority. The filibuster gives that power to minorities of 41. Liebermans vote is only important because forty other senators will likely vote the same vote. It hurtsand feelsextremely good when we reduce it to Joe alone. But its dumb to say things like thatand political movements which run on dumb are largely destined to fail. (For the past fifty years, the conservative movement has sold us dumb, doing so very smartly.)
At least 41 senators are blocking that buy-inwhich would have been enormously limited, although youd never know that from what you hear on cable. We please ourselves with obsessing on one. And by the way: Just what kind of political movement could possibly be caught by surprise by Liebermans conduct? For ourselves, were less offended by Lieberman than most liberals are. But are we the only ones who recall the events of the past five or six years?
By 2006, Lieberman was already quite unpopular with Democrats, largely due to his aggressive support for Bushs policies in Iraq. As a result, he lost his bid for renomination to the Senate from the state of Connecticut. But so what? He had refused to pledge his support for whoever won the party primary. So he ran for re-election as an independentand he won.
Lieberman thus won re-election to the Senatepredominantly with Republican votes.
But wait. Theres more!
In 2008, Lieberman supported John McCain, the Republican nominee for president. He even delivered a prime-time speech on McCains behalfat the Republican convention! It seems fairly clear that McCain would have picked him to run as his VP, except the GOP base wouldnt have accepted it.
(For obvious reasons, many people have wondered if Lieberman might seek re-election in 2012 as a Republican. In just the last week, he refused to rule it out.)
And then, even after all those events, one more event occurred:
In 2009, we liberals counted our votes in the senate. Triumphantly, we said we had 60 votesincluding Lieberman in the total! Our question: What kind of political movement counts its votesconducts its affairsin such a flimsy way?
What kind of movement functions that way? What kind of liberal/Democratic/progressive movement was still counting Lieberman on its side this year? Was parading about, counting to 60and including Joe in the stew? (Will we now suggest that Zell Miller run for the senate from Georgia again?) And then, this morning, we got our answer: The kind of movement whose feelings align with those of the fatuous Collins.
We think Collins new column is thoroughly fatuous, not unlike the bulk of her work. (She goes on to say foolish things about both Kerry and Gore.) But as she continued her piece, we recalled our surprising labors from yesterday afternoon.
As Collins continued, she recited the latest Conventional Wisdom about Liebermans much-beloved badness. In one way, her statement doesnt make any real difference. But as weve seen so many times in the past, were not sure that this latest piece of Conventional Wisdom isnt weirdly wrong:
COLLINS (continuing directly): Liebermans apparently successful attempt to hijack health care reform and hold it hostage until it had been amended into something that liberals couldnt stomach has mesmerized the nations political class. This was, after all, a guy who has been a liberal on domestic issues since he was a college student campaigning for John F. Kennedy. A guy who was in favor of the public option, of expanding Medicare eligibility, untillast week.
The theories about Why Joe Is Doing It abound. We cannot get enough of them! I have decided to start a rumor that it all goes back to the 2004 presidential race, when Lieberman not only failed to win any primaries, but was also bitten by either a rabid muskrat or a vampire disguised as a moose.
Other than that, my favorite explanation comes from Jonathan Chait of The New Republic, who theorized that Lieberman was able to go from Guy Who Wants to Expand Medicare to Guy Who Would Rather Kill Health Care Than Expand Medicare because he isnt actually all that smart.
Speaking of people who arent all that smart, Collins rather plainly embellishes what Chait said in his post. (Just click this. He doesnt discuss expansion of Medicare.) But she does recite the latest Conventional Wisdom, embellishing it a bit as she does. In her treatment, Lieberman was in favor of...expanding Medicare eligibility until last week (our emphasis). Lieberman has leap[ed] from one position to its total opposite, she later dramatically says.
Yes, we knowthats conventional wisdom. But is it actually accurate? Yesterday, we finally got to watch the tape of what Lieberman told the Connecticut Post in early September, when he responded to a question about his health care proposals in 2004 and 2006. (We watched the clip at Greg Sargents blog, where it first came to light.) In his reply, Lieberman rather plainly seemed to say that he had supported a Medicare buy-in, though he never specifically said which campaign he was talking about. Heres Liebermans statement as edited by Greg, perfectly fairly, we might add (though Greg should have included the question Lieberman was asked):
LIEBERMAN (9/1/09): My proposals were to basically expand the existing successful public health insurance programs Medicare and Medicaid
When it came to Medicare I was very focused on a grouppost 50, maybe more like post 55. People who have retired early, or unfortunately have been laid off early, who lose their health insurance and theyre too young to qualify for Medicare.
What I was proposing was that they have an option to buy into Medicare early and again on the premise that that would be less expensive than the enormous costif youre 55 or 60 and youre without health insurance and you go in to try to buy it, because youre older...youre rated as a risk so you pay a lot of money.
Out of curiosity, we decided to click back in time, using Nexis, to see what Lieberman had proposed and when he had proposed it. And it may be that were missing something, but we found no indication that he actually proposed a Medicare buy-in in 2004 (his White House run) or in 2006 (his Senate re-election campaign). In early September 2003, as a presidential candidate, he did make a ballyhooed formal health care proposalthis included a plan for covering uninsured people in the 50-65 age range. But he didnt describe it as a Medicare buy-inand neither did anyone else. There seems to be a fairly good reason for that: Unless theres some massive point were missing, that isnt what he proposed.
(Clicking for an hour or so, we found no discussion of anything like a Medicare buy-in during the 2006 campaign against Ned Lamont. Its always possible that we missed something. But thats more like the type of proposal someone would make in a White House campaign.)
Did Lieberman propose a Medicare buy-in in his 2004 or 2006 campaigns? Thats what he seemed to say in Septemberbut was his statement accurate? As we clicked, we thought of two possible reasons why he may have misstated, if thats what he did:
One possibility paralleled Chaits post, which we hadnt yet seen. We wondered if Lieberman simply couldnt remember what he proposed in 2003 as part of his White House campaign. Presidential candidates sometimes commission Grand Plans which, in truth, have little to do with their actual bottom-line views. Was Lieberman confused about what hed proposed? We have no way of knowing. But drawing on first-hand observations, Chait says the guy just aint real smart when it comes to such policy matters.
We thought of a second possibility. In the actual question he answered last fall, Lieberman was challenged about his alleged prior support for a public option, which he was now opposing. In his response, he seemed to be trying to stress the idea that he hadnt ever supported anything like the current plan for a public option. (We would assume that is accurate.) Who knows? He may have embellished matters a bit as a way to heighten the contrastnot realizing that a Medicare buy-in would soon be proposed to replace the public option.
At any rate, we found no indication that Lieberman supported a Medicare buy-in in the two campaigns about which he was askedwhich may explain why youve seen no quotes from those campaigns in which he does such a thing. But then, clowns like Collins dont need silly things like quotes. They have long typed the novels they like. Theyre experts at fixing reality. And by the way: Wed have to say that the New York Times news report on this matterand the New York Times editorialwere both quite poorly drawn (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/16/09).
Did Lieberman ever support a Medicare buy-in, except as second banana to Gore late in Campaign 2000? Clicking away, we couldnt find it. But a larger question intrudes, concerning the liberal/progressive movement:
Why did we ever think we would get Liebermans vote for X, Y or Z? Why in the world did we ever count him in our alleged Gang of 60? And by the way, the gruesome failures of this gruesome week go well beyond the badness of Joe. How about the dumbness, the haplessness, the lack of discipline of the liberal, progressive, Democratic Party movements? How about the stunning failure of liberal leaders to develop rationales for health care reform? Good God! Our health care system is the joke of the worldand we cant build support for reform! That makes us the cosmic dumb-asses herethough its much more fun to join Fool Collins in obsessing about Joes badness.
Losing movements demonize dissentersthus ignoring their own cosmic failures.
Lieberman has been a joke for years. So why were we counting him in our sixty? The answer to that is painfully clear: The liberal, progressive, Democratic Party worlds were bad jokes long before him! Our health system is the joke of the worldand we cant build support for reform! As weve said, that makes us like the apocryphal fellow who cant sell ice at the equator.
Were so pitiful, we cheer for the chance to spend $7600 per person to buy in to the Medicare program. It doesnt even occur to us to wonder about that price tag. (We dont seem to know that single-payer plans can overspend massively too.)
Lets not even talk about our progressive TV shows last night.
Our side is weak, undisciplineddumb. Weve been that way for many yearsand our leaders are utterly hapless. Our health system is the joke of the worldand we cant find ways to sell reform! And this is a failure which goes back decades. It isnt about this year.
But so what? This week, we all get to wail about the Badness of Joe.
Our view? A political movement is scraping the bottom when it sounds like Gail Collins.
Final statement: Well be happy to be shown that Lieberman did propose a buy-in in some campaign, other than as Gores VP, where he wouldnt have been the decision-maker. But have you seen a real-time quotation in which he did that? So far, we have not.
Maddow on filibuster: Heres Maddow on the filibuster, beating E.J. to it:
MADDOW (12/14/09): Should the rules of the Senate be changed to stop one senator from seizing this much country-changing power? That issue is next.
Very dumb. It isnt the filibuster which creates this type of situation, in which a deeply important issue can all come down to one senators vote. It can also happen in simple-majority votesand it has, in high-profile cases. In 1993, that single senator was Bob Kerrey, agonizing about the Clinton budget plan, which finally passed on a 50-50 vote (with Kerrey finally voting yes, and VP Gore breaking the tie). You see, fifty senators were committed to noand Kerrey still couldnt make up his mind! He famously went to a matinee as he tortured his soul about it.)
The same sort of drama played out around Lieberman. But this can happen with votes by simple majorities as well as with filibusters, which turn on the 60th vote.
No, it doesnt exactly matter. But we lose because were so dumband because we follow dumb leaders.
Maddow also savaged Lieberman for flipping about the filibuster itself. You see, he tried to outlaw the filibuster in 1995and yet, hes using it now! It felt so good as she told us!
She forgot to mention 2003, when Lieberman tried (unsuccessfully, due to the votes of other Dems) to filibuster Bushs prescription drug plan. You see, that might have made His Badness seem like a hero of progressive labora bit more like One of Us.
Most likely, Maddows staff didnt know. Just a guess: If they did know, they wouldnt have told.