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Monday, February 11, 2008

you can have him, we don't want him

Prediction: if John McCain becomes the Republican nominee for president, his running mate will be Senator Joseph Lieberman (CfL-CT). I have been saying this privately since last year, but today's report in the News-Times of Connecticut that Lieberman will 'quite possibly' attend the Republican convention suggests that he is already laying the groundwork.

It would suit McCain's empty 'maverick' brand to choose a running mate from the other party—if by 'other party' one means the Connecticut for Lieberman Party. To people who don't follow politics closely, it would probably look like a bold move to bring the two parties together and overcome the partisan rancor that supposedly accounts for government dysfunction. How strongly could conservatives object to a running mate as hawkish as Dick Cheney and as committed to the culture wars as Pat Robertson? And he would certainly add votes from Connecticut South, also known as Florida.

For Lieberman it would be a return whence he came. It's worth recalling the circumstances of his election to the Senate in 1988. Lowell Wiecker, the Republican incumbent, was a true maverick. Here is the first paragraph from the New York Times's coverage of the campaign for September 30, 1988:
'At a Free South Africa conference here last weekend, a crowd of liberals applauded the arrival of the senior Senator from Connecticut, Lowell P. Weicker Jr. They nodded when the rambunctious Republican from Greenwich reminded them that he was the first, and so far the only, Senator to be arrested at an anti-apartheid demonstration.'
The headline was 'Foe Slowed by Weicker's 2-Party Appeal'. Foe indeed.

It is hard to see how an anti-abortion, anti-gay, pro-war candidate like McCain can claim the mantle of maverick. A sitting Republican Senator arrested for civil disobedience outside the South African Embassy? Now that's what I call a maverick.

Lieberman squeaked by with a margin of victory of 7,000 votes out of almost 1.3 million cast (NYT, November 9, 1988), or 49.7% to 49.0%, and the endorsements of William F. Buckley and other Republicans who found him more conservative than their own party's candidate. And Republicans did the same thing to re-elect Lieberman in 2006 after he lost the Democratic primary to Ned Lamont.

Whatever happens, the Democrats will surely pick up more seats in the Senate this year, at least six say I, and won't need the CfL Senator from Connecticut to caucus with them anymore.

One last point: earlier tonight I was watching Christopher Dodd, Connecticut's Democratic Senator, on C-SPAN2 filibustering against retroactive telecom immunity on the Senate floor. Dodd's father was a prosecutor at Nuremberg, and Dodd fils, invoking his father's legacy, has taken a hard line against abuses of power by the Bush administration. That doesn't make him a maverick, but in an age of wanton abuse of power and equally wanton cowardice by the opposition party, it does make him a hero. I'll take the hero over the maverick anytime.

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12 Comments:

Anonymous Not a Burping Sandinista said...

This would be electoral suicide for Senator McCain for two chief reasons. First, I propose that (electoral fraud notwithstanding) the first and second terms given to President Bush were partially "won" on the back of the evangelical movement, a critical chunk of that vague concept known as the "Republican base." These votes will be critical in red states from 2004 such as Missouri, Iowa, perhaps Kansas, and, to a lesser extent (in terms of evangelical impact, not importance), Ohio. We have already seen the movement's distrust of Senator McCain throughout the Republican primaries, and I submit to you that they would stay home on Election Day if faced with a choice between Senator McCain and either of the Democrats.

Second, I will address what I suspect you are thinking to yourself as you read this--that the independent-minded voters Senator McCain could pick up with his Lieberman, reach-across-the-aisle pitch would make up for the lost evangelical votes and actually take votes away from his Democratic opponent. I do not believe this would be the case. It would be quite easy to run a very effective attack upon Senator Lieberman for being an ideological carbon copy of his running mate and therefore out of touch with the majority of America on a number of issues. It would also be wise to hammer home the point that the existence of Connecticut for Lieberman makes: that he is a self-obsessed politician rather than a responsive servant of the people. Indeed, it would not take very much money or energy to turn voters off completely from the idea that a McCain-Lieberman union represents some sort of maverick cum centrist, uniter-not-divider dream ticket.

Thankfully, Senator McCain faces an uphill battle in the general election no matter what decision he makes on this front. Were I the curmudgeon Arizona senator, I would choose a running mate who would help me get the base to the polls in November. Only Senator McCain himself can burnish his so-called maverick credentials; vice president nominees are not the sort of people who are able to energize independent voters.

1:48 AM, February 12, 2008

 
Anonymous Dick Bufala said...

To be fair to McCain, who is as you say, anti-abortion, anti-gay and pro-war, he has nonetheless been quite outspoken on the issue of administration-ordered torture, more so than many Democrats, to the extent of trying to force through a bill explicitly to stop it (not his fault AIUI that it ended up hamstrung). Doesn't this make him somewhat of a "hero" according to your own analysis?

5:55 AM, February 12, 2008

 
Anonymous sw said...

McCain's noise about torture has actually been fairly muted, a few carefully timed squawks that do more to substantiate his "maverick" and "independent" reputation in the media than to repeal American practices. Nevertheless, that he has opposed the American use of torture is certain; that he has been "heroic" in his opposition is less convincing. But, I suppose to be fair to the Would-be-Iran-bombing, Iraq-War-Raging, Gay-bashing, Keating-Five-Corrupt, Right-Wing-Pandering, decrepit and ambitious Senator from Arizona, he is not a virulent anti-immigrant (though he's glad to use the codes about "securing the border") and he did not fully embrace the use of torture. Go to his campaign web-site and see his seethingly nasty defence of the environment, which is under assault from "liberal live for today" types who don't appreciate our "patriotic" duties to preserve "green spaces", all of which can be done by promoting the economy and growth. This diluted, displaced environmentalism is how pro-business types continue to destroy and degrade the world we live in.

Does this allow html links in the comments? I want to share with your readers the two videos - the Obama Yes I Can video, and the McCain parody. It's worth watching them in order.

7:15 AM, February 12, 2008

 
Anonymous Dirk Bogarde said...

No: his consistent opposition to torture, including the drafting and advocacy of his amendment (sorry, not bill), which did a lot to improve visibility of the matter in the media in 2005-6, really cannot be dismissed as "a few carefully timed squawks". Indeed I think that to call the principled denunciations of torture by a man who has himself suffered torture "squawks" is rather cheap. Perhaps it is to allow one's dislike of his other views to leak into this context.

Personally, of course, I am not arguing that this makes him a "hero"; my point was rather that it doesn't seem to take a lot to make someone a "hero" in the original post's account, as long as they have the right opinions on the right things.

Does John McCain, as you allege, want to bomb Iran? Er, not exactly:

"I am confident that this administration will exhaust every effort before contemplating seriously a military option."

Which is a diplomatic way of saying to his party: you must be fucking mad if you are thinking about bombing Iran.

Also, I must admit to having a soft spot for any man who is named after a brand of oven chips.

8:26 AM, February 12, 2008

 
Blogger Jeff Strabone said...

The Burping Sandinista (or not) has foreseen my argument, but I will make it, all the same. McCain's repulsion of Republican wingnuts may cost him in volunteer hours, dollars, and enthusiasm, but in the end they will vote for him. As will many more non-wingnuts if he burnishes his 'maverick' brand by running with Lieberman. In the end it won't matter because no Republican can win this year.

Let me put to rest Mr. Bufala-Bogarde's argument in as few words as possible. McCain voted for the Military Commissions Act of 2006. See his September 28, 2006 press release, still proudly on his website. The vote was 65 to 34. Dodd opposed it, as did Obama and Clinton.

McCain opposes torture, perhaps out of personal interest, but he is no defender of the rule of law.

1:45 PM, February 12, 2008

 
Anonymous sw said...

No: his consistent opposition to torture, including the drafting and advocacy of his amendment (sorry, not bill),

No, his opposition is not consistent. Why not take a closer look at his role in the Military Commissions Act of 2006 (and then see, for example, www.aclu.org/mca or the New York Times editorial, "Rushing off a Cliff")? I know, Jeff has mentioned this.

which did a lot to improve visibility of the matter in the media in 2005-6,

I really don't know what "improving visibility" of any matter "in the media" means, although it sounds like a media soundbite itself. Does "improving visiblity" mean that something gets less blurry? Maybe McCain makes it more blurry, particularly when a man with his intimate knowledge of torture oversees passage of bills that effectively permit torture and when he promotes - if not endorses - this linguistic game about what "rises to the level of" torture. Consider also his famous comment on The Daily Show about "I'd close Guantanamo Bay and I'd declare we never torture another person in American Custody." In an age of "extraordinary renditions" and "black sites", his moral bravado here is undermined by a fastidious avoidance of how so much torture is perpetrated by American agents: through proxies. As a well-known observer of the media, perhaps you might want to be more empirical and more thoughtful about the nature of this "visibility".

Indeed I think that to call the principled denunciations of torture by a man who has himself suffered torture "squawks" is rather cheap.

Ah, thanks for pointing that out.

Perhaps it is to allow one's dislike of his other views to leak into this context.

How very astute, and no doubt true. But, my dislike of his other views can be grouped together as a dislike of this decrepit, bullying, shallow and flaky man who always has an eye on how to appeal to his friends in the media, and, despite what he undoubtedly went through in Vietnam, he brings some of that same decrepit, bullying, shallow flakiness to American debates about torture and in his appeals to his friends in the media.

The American people (through their representatives) have failed to denounce torture, to bring perpetrators at all levels in the chain of command to justice for their participation in and authorization of torture in violation of laws of the land, and to completely renounce the use of torture by US agents or their proxies; McCain has a role to play in this failure. His role is all the more depressing and grotesque because of that moral authority you huffily allude to.


Does John McCain, as you allege, want to bomb Iran? Er, not exactly:

"I am confident that this administration will exhaust every effort before contemplating seriously a military option."

Which is a diplomatic way of saying to his party: you must be fucking mad if you are thinking about bombing Iran.


Do type "mccain iran" in google. The Beach Boys song, as performed by John "with Iran, all options are on the table" McCain. Whereas you hear the soft melodies of diplomacy in his statement quote above, I hear the snarl of a threat. Of course, there is one link to a Washington Post story titled "McCain Prays for No War with Iran". I guess he's also making God more visible in the media, too.

2:08 PM, February 12, 2008

 
Anonymous sw said...

But, Jeff, seriously: Lieberman is not a popular man - he won Connecticut not just because of Republicans but because he did have a small but not insignificant following of Democrats, including those who, for any number of reasons, disliked Lamont. He brought together a coalition in Connecticut that he could not replicate nationally. He wouldn't bring Ct into McCain's electoral column, and he probably wouldn't bring Connecticut South, as you put it, into his electoral column. So what does he bring?

And, I think you may be wrong about the Christian Right. They might sit out an election, especially one they may be doomed to lose anyway, so that afterwards, Republicans will fear them even more, and pander to them without pause (note, McCain does pander to the Christian right, but has erred in the past). But, contra what you say, The Christian Right does more to keep the Republicans in line than any leftwingers in the States do to keep the Democrats in line. Or, at least, that is the impression I get. And therefore, McCain may want to appease them, to avoid the (perhaps unavoidable) scenario outlined above.

That all having been said, we can pause to appreciate the genius of the Republican media machine. The "Republicans can't win with McCain, and we Right-wingers won't back McCain" is a very clever ploy - Coulter et al know that they won't win, so they say, up front, that they're not going to play this round, and when the team loses without them, the team comes back to them after the loss, their heads bowed, slightly awed by their foresight and vowing never, ever to doubt them again.

2:22 PM, February 12, 2008

 
Anonymous Bob Dole said...

You are quite right, I had forgotten that McCain voted for the authorizing-some-torture-while-
outlawing-other-torture MCA. Perhaps he believed it outlawed more torture than it authorized. Still, I am aware of no reason to think that his explicit statements in opposition to torture are somehow fake or disingenuous, or that his stance on the matter arises merely from "personal reasons", as Jeff sneers.

On the matter of bombing Iran, which McCain plainly thinks is a stupid idea:

"Whereas you hear the soft melodies of diplomacy in his statement quote above, I hear the snarl of a threat."

That seems to evince quite a naive understanding of how diplomacy works - as though, if the US announced it would definitely never attack Iran, that would not harm its negotiating position with respect to Iran's nuclear programme - as well as of McCain's political position within the Republican party.

3:30 PM, February 12, 2008

 
Anonymous 425 said...

There is NO WAY the Party chieftans will allow it. They need the South. If Obama wins, all the Southern States are up for grabs.Huckabee or some other Sothern hick will be the choice for Veep.
In the unlikely event that McCain wins(Please God, NO!). Look for Lieberman to be Secretary of Defense.

10:05 PM, February 12, 2008

 
Anonymous steve said...

I said: I am aware of no reason to think that his explicit statements in opposition to torture are somehow fake or disingenuous

Actually, after yesterday's Senate vote, I have become aware of one. I thank the contributors to this thread for employing harsh measures to persuade me to reconsider.

(Still, at least the bastard doesn't want to bomb Iran.)

8:04 AM, February 14, 2008

 
Blogger Jeff Strabone said...

Despite the arguments posted by readers, I still think Lieberman is a likely running mate for McCain.

SW is correct that Lieberman is not a popular man in his home state, where he nevertheless won re-election against both a Democrat and a Republican, and people who follow politics know the recent history of his party perfidy. I leave it to my readers to consider what percentage of voters actually follow politics. Note that I don't think that choosing Lieberman would be a winning strategy but, rather, the sort of choice that would appeal to bogus maverick McCain.

Would Lieberman dampen the conservative vote? McCain on his own will face a dearth of volunteer hours, dollars, and enthusiasm from conservatives, but they will still vote for him. But I don't see why a bona fide conservative like Lieberman would turn away conservative voters. They were willing to vote for Romney.

As for Lieberman as secretary of defense in an alternate reality where McCain could win the election, I can't see it. Besides the Senate, the secretary of defense has to be acceptable to the U.S. military. Lieberman does not have the right demeanor to win over the Pentagon brass

4:29 PM, February 14, 2008

 
Anonymous sw said...

I think you're right about Secretary of Defence - you've changed my mind on that. Nobody would be so stupid as to put Lieberman in front of a room full of armed men. He is just too annoying.


McCain on his own will face a dearth of volunteer hours, dollars, and enthusiasm from conservatives, but they will still vote for him. But I don't see why a bona fide conservative like Lieberman would turn away conservative voters. They were willing to vote for Romney.

But I think you underestimate the devastation this has wrought on the Christian Right voting block. Yes, of course, millions will vote for McCain just as they voted for Bush. But some large number - hundreds of thousands? a million? - will sit out a McCain candidacy (especially if he doesn't have a Christian Rightist running mate - and no, Lieberman doesn't count). And another large number - hundreds of thousands? a million? - will vote Obama, if he's the candidate. This shift - maybe only a few percentage points - would have stymied Bush's 2000 coup d'etat, and closed the race down in 2004 so that it would have been only a matter of Republican voting suppression and Diebold that kept Bush in the White House - as it stands, Republican voting suppression, Diebold, and sufficient loyal Christianists were the difference. It is foolish to think of the Christian Right as undyingly and totally loyal to Republicans - and tactical folly as well. If Democrats can appeal to some number of them without turning into Republicans then the tide will turn, and the above McCain-Obama logic says this might happen.

I also think you overestimate Lieberman's worth and you underestimate how solidly McCain has established his media Maverick credentials. He doesn't need Lieberman to be a "maverick" - he, and his media friends, will spin whatever choice he makes as a "maverick" choice. Lieberman's conservative credentials are not like Zell Miller's - his is the whiny conservativism of the North East, not the firebrand conservativism of the South. And Romney? You miss the point. Conservatives didn't like him. They didn't vote for him. Despite huge amounts of money and huge pro-business support, his candidacy tanked because conservative ideologues couldn't back and because his Private Industry backers were, ultimately, unconvinced. The fact that conservatives didn't vote for Romney, despite every effort on his part to fellate them, should convince you that Lieberman is out of the picture.

But, we'll see. My application to be a pundit on Fox News was turned down.

9:08 AM, February 15, 2008

 

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