Joe Lieberman on Biden, Trump and centrism: ‘It’s a strategy for making democracy work’

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a friend once joked Joe Lieberman, The former senator and vice-presidential candidate, that the Democratic Party was like his addendum: It was there but not doing much for him.

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“It’s a strange line,” he says by phone from his law office in New York, “but the truth is it’s much more than that because that’s when Democrats do well—in my terms—and it hurts when I feel pain.” Happens they go away and do things that I don’t agree with.,


Lieberman may be in a world of pain now. The other Joe – also 79, a Democratic former senator – was expected to share his centrist beliefs as US president. Instead, as president, Joe Biden has surprised friends and foes alike with the scale, scope and audacity of his multi-billion dollar agenda.

The Democratic Party itself has shifted to the left over the past decade, making it an increasingly awkward fit for Lieberman, who voted for George W. Bush’s Iraq War, backing Republican John McCain over Barack Obama for president. And is still a close friend of Senator Lindsay from South Carolina. The quintessential Republican apology to Graham, Donald Trump.

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so it was that A recent appearance on C-SPAN To promote your new book, intermediate solution, Lieberman was attacked by a caller from Oregon for his “archaic” views and policies that “have done nothing for the poor and the working class”. Another, from Connecticut, rebuked him for protracted wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, deregulation of Wall Street, and a crime bill that “jailed so many black and brown people in this country”.

Yet he remains adamant and adamant from the political currents. Lieberman, Co-Chair no label, A group focused on bipartisanship continues to preach the deeply unfashionable gospel of compromise. working in the corridor In a country that seems crippled by the Cold Civil War.

When he joined the Senate in 1989, he recalls, a typical vote consisted of about 40 conservatives on one side, 40 liberals on the other, and 20 who were an unlikely mix. By the time of his departure in 2013, there was no Democrat with a more conservative voting record than any Republican, and no Republican with a more liberal voting record than any Democrat.

He attributes the polarization to the absence of Congressional districts, which protect incumbents from risk, the growing influence of money in politics – “they expect you to do ideologically what they want you to do., And the partisanship of both cable news and social media, which encourages politicians to play in their echo chambers.

Lieberman explains from his Senate experience: “We want to be able to go home at election time and say, ‘My friends, this is what I did for us.’ But now people want to go home and say, ‘Oh, here’s what I tried to do by leaving those bastards at the other party.’ It is indeed a vicious cycle that leads the country nowhere. The public, certainly the wider middle, is sick of all this.”

This discontent, Lieberman believes, helps explain why, in 2016, millions of Americans decided to blow it up by electing an outsider, celebrity businessman Trump. Obviously this didn’t work because Washington became more toxic and polarized than ever.

Does “centre ground” mean anything else when one party, the Republican, turns to far-right extremism, for example by embracing Trump’s “big lie” about a stolen election and 6 in the US Capitol? Failing to condemn the January Uprising?

Lieberman’s answer will strike some as out of touch and trafficked in the wrong equivalence: “The divisive forces in both of our major parties have moved further away from the center. But I believe both the more extremist sections of both parties.” The parties are in a minority.

“The majority, I would say, is the center right in the Republican Party and the center left in the Democratic Party, and it is quite possible for them to make their way to the center and negotiate and come up with centrist solutions. In the book, I separate moderateness from moderation. Centralism is not an ideology. It is a strategy to make democracy work.

He continues: “It takes leaders who are willing to work together across party lines to get something done, and if that doesn’t work, it takes voters who I think are in the majority.” They are, of course, plurality, to demand at the time of elections that the candidates they will vote for, act across party lines.”

To many hurt by Washington’s years of stalemate, this would seem naive.

Lieberman’s support for a 60-vote filibuster, a Senate procedural rule, as one of the last remaining incentives for bipartisanship is out of touch with a new generation of progressives who are essentially filibuster to protect voting rights and democracy. acknowledge improvement.

But he doesn’t allow the possibility that the two-system party may no longer be fit for purpose—and that the long-awaited, much-anticipated case for a viable third party may be irresistible.

“If one can imagine Republicans nominating Donald Trump as president again and Democrats — assuming for a moment that Joe Biden doesn’t run again — nominate someone else on the left, who will be the Democratic primary. It’s possible as a result of, wow, there’s going to be a big space in the middle of the open and someone will take it,” he says.

“Situations are unprecedented now in American history. The degree of partisanship and effective control of the political system by minorities on the right and left in both parties could actually open the door to a successful third-party campaign for president, perhaps as early as 2024. .

Lieberman has reason to be a student of third party candidacy. Ralph Nader’s Green Party polled less than 3% in 2000, but was widely blamed by Bush and Dick Cheney for driving Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore and critical vote partner Lieberman in their narrow defeat.

The losing vice-presidential candidate, however, is philosophical: “I never blamed Nader because he had a legal right to do whatever he did and there was some interesting turnout after the election which surprisingly indicated Given that the Nader vote would be split between Bush. and Gore,

He described the Supreme Court ruling in Bush’s favor in the disputed election as a “miscarriage of justice”. A Gore-Lieberman administration is now one of the great historical what-ifs, an alternate timeline that could have shaped the 21st century very differently.

For example, Lieberman points out, Bush oversaw a large and unnecessary tax cut that pushed America back into deficit territory after three consecutive surpluses under Bill Clinton. “I believe that President Gore would have felt a responsibility to go to Afghanistan, from where we were attacked. [on 11 September 2001]But would he have gone to Iraq? I doubt It must have changed history a lot.

“The other big change would have been clearly that Al Gore was the leading US champion to do some about climate change, We would move through some of the responses to climate change that would have put us in a better, safer position now.,

Criticized for his resistance to withdrawal from Iraq, Lieberman lost a Democratic primary election for his seat in Connecticut in 2006, only to win the election as an independent. Two years later, he again marched to the beat of his own drum. In support of my old friend McCain, A Republican senator for Arizona instead of Democratic Senator Obama, the first African American candidate from a major party.

He insists: “Amazingly, neither Barack Obama nor Hillary Clinton, whom I knew really well, never asked me for my support. McCain did and I thought, What’s the matter? He is my friend, fully capable of being President, and so I don’t regret supporting him at all.

“We had great areas of agreement on foreign and defense policy but we disagreed a lot. I consider myself a centre-left Democrat. He’s a conservative Republican but a vagabond so he broke down on climate change, he broke down on campaign finance reform for a while.,

It later emerged that McCain had wanted Lieberman as his running mate, Believing a country prepared for a bipartisan ticket, only to be persuaded by her staff to go for the inexperienced, frenzied Sarah Palin. Another crossroads in history. McCain later admitted that it was a mistake.

Lieberman, a second time almost man, remarks: “If McCain had been able to have me as his running mate, I believe we would have done better than we did with Governor Palin. But it’s hard to say that.” We would have won. Obama was walking on top of a mountain at the time and Bush was 43 unpopular and the economy was in bad shape, so people really wanted change.

“And not only were there changes in the Obama party but he was African American. It was a breakthrough moment for America. I think a lot of people who voted for him not only felt that he was transformative and capable, but That we were going to prove again what we are as a country. So it was an extraordinary moment.”

The close friendship between Lieberman, McCain, who died in 2018, and Graham, another senator from South Carolina, dubbed him. “the three friends”. But where McCain clearly detested Trump, Graham defended the former president’s precarious actions while enjoying his hospitality on the golf course. Did Lieberman ever call her and say, get out of it?

“Well, we talk a lot. Lindsay will always try by her nature to be where she thinks she can be dominant and that’s why you’ve seen her sometimes quite close to Trump and sometimes critical. We remain friends. I have nothing negative to say about him because he is my friend but I think his great skill eventually – and I saw it while I was in the Senate – is to be a bridge…

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