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WHAT DID LIEBERMAN PROPOSE AND WHEN DID HE PROPOSE IT! Lieberman said he proposed a buy-in. Was his statement accurate? // link // print // previous // next //

Our series on Leonhardt’s worthwhile piece: Continues tomorrow and Monday.

WHAT DID LIEBERMAN PROPOSE AND WHEN DID HE PROPOSE IT: Here at THE HOWLER, we couldn’t care less about Tiger Woods. In a similar vein, we’re 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 we’d be obsessed with the senator from Connecticut? Really, I was hoping it would be more about shopping for mittens on the Internet.

Lieberman’s apparently successful attempt to hijack health care reform and hold it hostage until it had been amended into something that liberals couldn’t stomach has mesmerized the nation’s political class.

Collins is “obsessed with the senator from Connecticut.” She’s “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.

Let’s talk about policy:

For ourselves, we would prefer a strong, robust, far-reaching public option. We’d be happy to see Medicare open to those who are 55—though we can’t help wondering, as few liberals have done, if that proposed $7600 per-person buy-in wasn’t the latest large rip-off. But our analysts have groaned this week as the liberal world, like the fatuous Collins, has indulged itself in—has distracted itself with—the 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 minorities—sometimes a minority of one—the power to kill proposals supported by the vast majority of its members. That’s why there was no time to lose during the Finance Committee’s 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 doesn’t give “tiny minorities”—let alone “a minority of one”—the “power to kill proposals supported by the vast majority.” The filibuster gives that power to minorities of 41. Lieberman’s vote is only important because forty other senators will likely vote the same vote. It hurts—and feels—extremely good when we reduce it to Joe alone. But it’s dumb to say things like that—and 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-in—which would have been enormously limited, although you’d 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 Lieberman’s conduct? For ourselves, we’re 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?

Let’s remember:

By 2006, Lieberman was already quite unpopular with Democrats, largely due to his aggressive support for Bush’s 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 independent—and he won.

Lieberman thus won re-election to the Senate—predominantly with Republican votes.

But wait. There’s more!

In 2008, Lieberman supported John McCain, the Republican nominee for president. He even delivered a prime-time speech on McCain’s behalf—at the Republican convention! It seems fairly clear that McCain would have picked him to run as his VP, except the GOP base wouldn’t 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 votes—including Lieberman in the total! Our question: What kind of political movement counts its votes—conducts its affairs—in 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 60—and 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 Collin’s 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 Lieberman’s much-beloved badness. In one way, her statement doesn’t make any real difference. But as we’ve seen so many times in the past, we’re not sure that this latest piece of Conventional Wisdom isn’t weirdly wrong:

COLLINS (continuing directly): Lieberman’s apparently successful attempt to hijack health care reform and hold it hostage until it had been amended into something that liberals couldn’t stomach has mesmerized the nation’s 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, until—last 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 “isn’t actually all that smart.”

Speaking of people who aren’t all that smart, Collins rather plainly embellishes what Chait said in his post. (Just click this. He doesn’t 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 know—that’s 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 Sargent’s 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. Here’s Lieberman’s 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 group—post 50, maybe more like post 55. People who have retired early, or unfortunately have been laid off early, who lose their health insurance and they’re 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 cost—if you’re 55 or 60 and you’re without health insurance and you go in to try to buy it, because you’re older...you’re 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 we’re 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 proposal—this included a plan for covering uninsured people in the 50-65 age range. But he didn’t describe it as a Medicare buy-in—and neither did anyone else. There seems to be a fairly good reason for that: Unless there’s some massive point we’re missing, that isn’t 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. It’s always possible that we missed something. But that’s 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? That’s what he seemed to say in September—but was his statement accurate? As we clicked, we thought of two possible reasons why he may have misstated, if that’s what he did:

One possibility paralleled Chait’s post, which we hadn’t yet seen. We wondered if Lieberman simply couldn’t 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 he’d proposed? We have no way of knowing. But drawing on first-hand observations, Chait says the guy just ain’t 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 hadn’t 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 contrast—not 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 asked—which may explain why you’ve seen no quotes from those campaigns in which he does such a thing. But then, clowns like Collins don’t need silly things like quotes. They have long typed the novels they like. They’re experts at fixing reality. And by the way: We’d have to say that the New York Times news report on this matter—and the New York Times editorial—were 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 couldn’t find it. But a larger question intrudes, concerning the liberal/progressive movement:

Why did we ever think we would get Lieberman’s 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 world—and we can’t build support for reform! That makes us the cosmic dumb-asses here—though it’s much more fun to join Fool Collins in “obsessing” about Joe’s “badness.”

Losing movements demonize dissenters—thus 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 world—and we can’t build support for reform! As we’ve said, that makes us like the apocryphal fellow who can’t sell ice at the equator.

We’re so pitiful, we cheer for the chance to spend $7600 per person to buy in to the Medicare program. It doesn’t even occur to us to wonder about that price tag. (We don’t seem to know that single-payer plans can overspend massively too.)

Let’s not even talk about our “progressive” TV shows last night.

Our side is weak, undisciplined—dumb. We’ve been that way for many years—and our “leaders” are utterly hapless. Our health system is the joke of the world—and we can’t find ways to sell reform! And this is a failure which goes back decades. It isn’t 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: We’ll be happy to be shown that Lieberman did propose a buy-in in some campaign, other than as Gore’s VP, where he wouldn’t 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: Here’s 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 isn’t the filibuster which creates this type of situation, in which a deeply important issue can all come down to one senator’s vote. It can also happen in simple-majority votes—and 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 “no”—and Kerrey still couldn’t 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 doesn’t exactly matter. But we lose because we’re so dumb—and because we follow dumb leaders.

Maddow also savaged Lieberman for flipping about the filibuster itself. You see, he tried to outlaw the filibuster in 1995—and yet, he’s 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 Bush’s prescription drug plan. You see, that might have made His Badness seem like a hero of progressive labor—a bit more like One of Us.

Most likely, Maddow’s staff didn’t know. Just a guess: If they did know, they wouldn’t have told.