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Below Replacement Level

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Um… no.

That kept Lieberman in the fold, and after Arlen Specter switched parties and Al Franken won his election, gave Democrats the 60 votes they needed to break a Republican filibuster against health-care reform. Lieberman’s behavior during the debate was often erratic and seemingly unprincipled. Among other things, he skipped the meetings where Democrats were trying to work out a compromise on the public option, and then he killed the Medicare buy-in proposal they’d developed — despite endorsing that exact proposal months before. In doing so, he doomed a great piece of policy, and by doing it at the last minute, endangered the rest of the bill, too. But the reality is that the legislation simply wouldn’t have passed without his vote. And after extracting his pound of flesh, he voted “aye.”

That wasn’t Lieberman’s only moment as a good soldier for the Democrats: He was one of the key senators behind the effort to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” He was also one of the three lawmakers involved in the most credible of the efforts to pass a cap-and-trade bill. The legislation failed, but if it had succeeded, it would’ve been in no small part due to his hard work. And Lieberman was loyal to his party in other ways, too. He was Harry Reid’s single largest donor in the Senate, for instance.

Today, Lieberman announced that he’ll retire in 2012. I imagine there are plenty in his caucus breathing a sigh of relief, and more than a few who will miss him. For the Democrats, Lieberman was the best of friends, and also the worst.

We can agree that the decision to keep Joe Lieberman in the fold ended up as a net positive for the Democrats, and should be counted as one of the better moves by Obama and Reid. However, what Ezra describes here is behavior that is slightly below the minimal acceptable standards for a Democratic Senator in the 111th Congress. It’s quite above the Expected Joe Lieberman Value standard, but this merely acknowledges that the EJLV was staggeringly low. It would be better to say that Joe Lieberman performed substantially below (his leadership on DADT notwithstanding) what we would have expected from Senator Lamont. This is to say that if Ned Lamont had behaved in such a fashion, we would have been surprised, disappointed, and angered.

Joe ain’t all that, and we should be glad that he’s heading for retirement.

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  • Impressively Broder-esque column by Klein!

    • DocAmazing

      Yeah, I was having some difficulty determining whether that was Ezra or Joe.

  • I have no interest in registering at WaPo, so I’ll say it here: After “blood libel,” is it right to invoke the “pound of flesh”?

    • I didn’t really understand the origin of the phrase (I thought it was a reference to the devil wanting something), but according to The Phrase Finder website, the figurative meaning has been in use for a couple of centuries, back when people were still killing Jews over blood libel.

      http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/284400.html

      • Walt

        It’s from Shakespeare: Merchant of Venice.

        • Warren Terra

          But unlike “blood libel” it’s also a colloquialism in common use, and often used without enormous malice towards the party extraction the pound.

          • Warren Terra

            Er, “extraction” s/b “extracting”, a word the geniuses who make iOS have yet to encounter. I think some people at Apple are just nostalgic for the old Newton jokes.

            • It’s also (in Shakespeare’s time) an allusion to the pound of flesh a day that was part of a British sailor’s rations (since a document of Henry VIII, IIRC).

  • DrDick

    Did a little happy dance when I heard the news. Jiltin’ Joe may have provided some benefits, but in my judgment exacted far too great a cost and gave far too much legitimacy to the right in the process.

    • Bart

      Don’t forget the Dual Loyalty taint.

  • David Kaib

    I’m not sure there is any reason to assume that Lieberman was being a good soldier by taking the lead on DADT. Another possibility, more likely, in my opinion, was that his allies in the Senate and / or the White House gave him this assignment in the hopes of improving his standing among Democratic voters, activists or interests. When that didn’t work, he rode into the sunset.

  • Murc

    Joey Joe-Joe is John McCain lite.

    He’s not AS bad about it as McCain (DADT is a case in point on that, and I’m inclined to think Joe isn’t as outright nasty as McCain), but a lot of his behavior post-2006 is explicable in terms of ‘What’s going to piss off the people who have dared to wrong me the most? Okay, I’ll do THAT, my actual policy preferences notwithstanding.’

    I will ALMOST say that even if the seat goes Republican I’m glad he’s going to be gone. Almost.

  • NBarnes

    It’s nice that Lieberman did such yeoman work on DADT repeal, and I praise him and history will remember him better for it. But one bright spot doesn’t lift you above replacement level. Miguel Cairo carried a pretty decent glove. Willie Bloomquist was a fantastic baserunner. They still sucked. And Lieberman sucks as a Democratic Senator. The ACA would be both cheaper and more effective without Lieberman’s deeply cynical manipulation of the process. Making such important legislation both more expensive and less effective is quite a twofer.

  • R.Johnston

    Love the post title. Of course the implication that Major League Baseball owners, who don’t let the Rey Ordonezes of their world play for more than nine years or so, are more rational than the voters of Connecticut, who have returned Lieberman to the Senate for 24 years, is disturbing. How can a collective of millions be dumber than people who hired Rey Ordonez to play baseball at the highest professional level for nine years? What does that say about the future of humanity? Is democracy doomed to failure?

  • “slightly below the minimal acceptable standards for a Democratic Senator”?

    Even allowing for understatement, I’d say Lieberman went over the edge of “deserving of expulsion from the party caucus for repeated, gross disloyalty.”

    • bh

      Well, of course, “… for a Senator” establishes a pretty low standard of behavior to start with.

  • James E Powell

    Nothing can redeem Holy Joe. The list of his serious transgressions is long and very hard to read without becoming angry. Certainly, campaigning for McCain/Palin is the most egregious. It was and will always be unforgivable.

    • Everyone has their favorite Holy Joe low point. Mine is the way he tanked the debate with Cheney.

  • bh

    Were Klein and Matt Yglesias always this awful, and I just started noticing? Because if not — and I think not — I’m going to have start believing some really cliched stuff about the corrupting power of the DC establishment.

    • Murc

      Matt isn’t really bad. What’s been annoying people lately (and with good cause!) is that Matt has a real bug up his ass about local (that is to say, city-and-county level) that he perceives as being stupid, ill-conceived, or just plain BAD.

      Now, fair enough. Everyone is entitled to their own weird quirks and quixotic crusades. Lord knows I read enough Sully posts about deficit reduction. But Matt posts about them ALL THE TIME, he uses language that could have been written by a Cato hack (even though when you unpack his positions they usually come from a technocratic liberal standpoint rather than a RAR GOVERNMENT ALWAYS BAD standpoint) he ignores and denigrates those who poke holes in both his general and specific arguments (although if I had Morgan Warstler and Hercule Triathlon in my comments section, I don’t know how engaged I’d be either) and generally doesn’t seem to care that he’s coming off as an establishment douche.

      Ezra I’m going to say he just straight-up fucked up with this specific column. It happens. I haven’t noticed that he’s otherwise changed very much lately, except that maybe he’s overly willing to defend the bad aspects of the ACA, possibly because he spent an EXHAUSTIVE year fighting what looked at times to be a losing struggle for it. Minor quibble tho.

      • Rob

        Part of the reason I swear Ezra was hired by the Post is that even from his early blog writing you could tell he was one who could easily be captured by the trappings of office (see his credulous reporting on Paul Ryan). There is a reason Ezra is at the Post and not Jesse.

      • DocAmazing

        Yeah, Matt has always been that bad. His default setting is one of condescension, and he has always advocated for the rule of a technocratic elite to which he (of course) belongs. When leftists complain about liberals, it’s the Matt archetype they have in mind.

    • bh

      I feel a bit sheepish devoting attention to a topic that just isn’t that important — both guys could be I.F. Stone reincarnated and the Senate would still fatally suck. But since I started it, here’s Freddie DeBoer saying some smart things on the subject: http://lhote.blogspot.com/2011/01/blindspot.html

    • Although there are things about both I like quite a bit, I think they both basically are the next generation of David Broders. They, and especially Yglesias, seem to aspire to be the Beltway elite they started out criticizing. Klein at least works hard at reporting health care–Yglesias is an expert at nothing and therefore very much on the road to bloviating punditry.

  • rea

    Yglesias was much better when he had has comments section under control and could interact with it. Weird how that works . . .

    • efgoldman

      Yglesias was much better when he had has comments section under control…

      When was that, exactly? Because I stopped going there because the comments were unmoderated and the trolling was completely out of control for as long as I visited (maybe 2005? 2006?)

      • Sharon

        His comments were less insane in the late 2002-2003 period. Very early in the life of the bloggosphere.

        • larryb33

          Still, he serves no real purpose.

  • mark f

    Lieberman’s behavior . . . was often erratic and seemingly unprincipled . . . skipped the meetings . . . and then he killed the Medicare buy-in proposal . . . despite endorsing that exact proposal months before . . . doomed a great piece of policy . . . endangered the rest of the bill . . . after extracting his pound of flesh, he voted “aye.”

    That wasn’t Lieberman’s only moment as a good soldier for the Democrats[.]

    Umm . . . what?

    I agree with Rob that keeping Lieberman in the fold was a net positive, but I’m glad to see him go.

  • SEK

    Lieberman: the Yuniesky Betancourt of the Senate. How’s that for a legacy?

    • bh

      I was thinking Jim Leyritz.

      • Joe Lieberman killed a woman while driving drunk?

        • Bill Murray

          just to determine how well the health care system worked, so it was really more like research.

        • bh

          I couldn’t think of any serial warmonger baseball players (Curt Schilling?), so this was as close as I could get.

          • bh

            … with the big playoff hit being DADT repeal or whatever.

  • Brad Potts

    Joe Lieberman was the model senator.

    Libertarianism will lose one of its best (if unwitting) proponents when he steps down.

    • Anonymous

      If you were a fan of Bush’s military adventurism, this comment might make more sense…

      • Brad Potts

        Quite the contrary.

        For the last few years, no libertarian could better prove the moral vapidity inherent to government than by just yelling “Joe Lieberman” and leave it at that, especially in the wake of Feingold’s defeat.

        • chris

          For the last few years, no libertarian could better prove the moral vapidity inherent to government than by just yelling “Joe Lieberman” and leave it at that

          How do you know that’s not just the moral vapidity inherent to Joe Lieberman?

          • Brad Potts

            How do you know that’s not just the moral vapidity inherent to Joe Lieberman?

            First off, Joe Lieberman isn’t morally vapid, he is chock full of disgusting morality.

            The idea that someone as reprehensible as Lieberman could wield and exploit such power should cause anyone to question how much of a force for good we should expect government to be.

            Look at the powers of congress. They have been consistently broadened in response to real problems within society. But where the proponents envisioned benevolent congressional use of the power, they were also confronted with the malevolence of Joe.

            Where we would love to have a congress full of Feingold’s, the fact of the matter is that congress is at least somewhat dynamic, and it tends to reward those who act solely in their own interests, rather than acting according to the good. Hence Feingold’s ouster, and Lieberman’s incredible balancing act.

            • bh

              Feingold lost in 2010 because he was up for reelection that year. Had Holy Joe, with his 31% in-state approval rating, been up that year, he would have lost. He would have lost in 2012, which is why he didn’t run again. I’m not saying they’re the same guy — one’s decent and the other’s a contemptible piece of trash — but you can’t ‘contrast’ their political fortunes when they both, in essence, got the boot.

              So… Joe Lieberman — bad guy. US Senate — defective legislative institution, easily one of the worst in the industrialized world.

              “Government”, generic? Sorry, you didn’t learn shit about that from this incident. I mean, that’s a lovely collection of libertarian hobbyhorses you’ve collected — and I’m sure they’re wheeled out at every opportunity — but they’re pretty much irrelevant to the situation.

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