Tuesday, November 11, 2008


Let's Not Get Vindictive

President-elect Obama is seen by many as a fresh face in Washington; indeed, he campaigned on that basis, describing himself as "post-partisan", calling for an end to "politics as usual" and presenting himself as the agent for Hope and Change.

I, and many others, will be watching and waiting eagerly to see if he can live up to the spirit of the change he promised, if not all of the actual details. Can Barack Obama inspire a new era of understanding between Republicans and Democrats, or between the United States and the rest of the world? That's a tall order for anyone. But it certainly would be wonderful to watch it happen, even just a bit at a time.

Inevitably, though, bringing the country together again will involve Democrats reaching out to Republicans. (It's up to the ones in power to include, or not, the minority party. Republicans did their fair share of this when they ran things in Washington; it will now be up to the Democrats.) And I'd suggest that, if the Democrats really do want to unite the country, it's not a good idea to be petty and vindictive towards Democrats who work well with Republicans.

Today's Wall Street Journal editorial page writes of two such Democrats: Rep. John Dingell, who has been generally supportive of the Bush administration on energy policies (while being a staunch Democrat otherwise), and Sen. Joe Lieberman, who has been strongly supportive of the Bush administration's wartime foreign policy (while remaining a staunch Democrat otherwise). But there is now talk, under an Obama administration, of punishing these two men for their failure to toe the party line:
In almost every sense, John Dingell and Joe Lieberman are loyal Democrats. But Mr. Dingell is holding down the party's right flank on energy, and Mr. Lieberman in foreign affairs. Now they're targets, and the retribution speaks volumes about the direction of liberal politics.

California Democrat Henry Waxman kicked things off the morning after Barack Obama's victory, with an announcement that he will seek the chairmanship of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee. The post is currently held by Mr. Dingell, the bulldog Michigander who next year will become the longest-serving Member in U.S. history. In Congressional physics, seniority is gravity, which alone makes Mr. Waxman's challenge extraordinary.

It is even more so because it is a coup d'etat against a climate-change moderate. [...]
Sen. Joe Lieberman's case is perhaps even more extreme. Four years ago, he was a Democratic candidate for President; eight years ago, he was the Democratic Party's nominee for Vice-President. When it came time to support a wartime President, Lieberman, in the words of the Wall Street Journal, "refused to repudiate the war that he and so many of his party colleagues had voted for". For this, he was abandoned by his party; when he ran for reelection in 2006, his Senate seat was challenged by Ned Lamont, an anti-war Democrat, and it was Lamont that the Democratic Party supported, forcing Lieberman to run -- and win -- as an independent.

For that, Lieberman could have been forgiven for refusing to have anything to do with the Democrats who had abandoned him. But he insisted on caucusing with the Democrats -- which made a crucial difference for them, because had he not done so, the Senate would have been evenly split, with Republican Vice-President Cheney casting tie-breaking votes. So Lieberman took the honorable course and continued to follow the dictates of his conscience; a grateful Democratic Party allowed him to keep the chairmanship of the Homeland Security committee.

But now that they no longer need him, with a Democratic majority in the Senate of at least 57%, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is reportedly telling Lieberman that he may be about to lose his chairmanship and his place with the Democratic caucus.

According to politico.com, President-elect Obama has appealed on Lieberman's behalf, arguing that he should be allowed to continue caucusing with the Democrats (although Obama's stance on Lieberman's chairmanship is unclear). This speaks well for Obama; let's hope that we see more of this. (UPDATE: Ben Pershing of the Washington Post agrees.)

Judging by the comments left at politico, Reid's claims that "rank-and-file sentiment against [Lieberman] had climbed to a point where he could not stay as Homeland Security Chairman" may well be accurate. (Have a look; some of those comments get pretty nasty.)

Throwing overboard the few Democrats who have a track record of working well with Republicans, however, will not help to re-unite America, or even to get things done, popular though it may be. It would also send a chilling signal to Democrats in Congress -- that public disagreement with the President-elect is not to be tolerated.

And, as the Wall Street Journal concludes, "If a venerable New Deal liberal first elected in 1955 and a Vice Presidential nominee only two elections ago aren't fit for polite Democratic company, it shows how far left the party's center has shifted."

Let's hope that President-elect Obama, and his administration, are more forgiving than his party colleagues in Congress.

UPDATE: June 2009: It looks as though the things I feared have not come to pass. I'm glad.


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