Adios, Vinegar Joe

A gleeful obituary for a loathsome politician


It's too bad that his support for President Bush's war in Iraq provides such an easy explanation for the downfall of Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-CT). The pious prig from the Nutmeg State is almost the perfect Murder On the Orient Express figure: There are so many reasons to wish him ill that the real challenge shouldn't be finding suspects, but settling on just one. To have Lieberman's Iraq stance become the default reason for opposing him (among Republicans, of course, it's also been the only reason for supporting him) is just too easy.

Lieberman is possibly the least libertarian member of the United States Senate: An infinite-state liberal who always found ways to oppose Social Security reform (which he allegedly supported), an absurd moral scold who co-sponsored the "Silver Sewer Awards" with William Bennett, a values buttinski who couldn't resist attaching himself to Terri Schiavo's feeding tube, he was in the final analysis nothing but a fake, a tartuffe, a figure able to puff enough gas into every opportunistic action to make it seem like an example of high principle. (Witness his Captain Renault-level shock when President Clinton's Lewinski scandal came to light—a case of the vapors that conveniently allowed Clinton to duck the more serious legal issues facing him, neutralized the Democrats-as-Woody-Allen-level-perverts trope that was popular at the time, and massively raised Lieberman's own national profile. For further study, consider the longtime champion of gay rights' vote for Clinton's Defense of Marriage Act.)

Ironically, the morally serious Lieberman has always had a secret weapon usually reserved for unctuous playboys like Bill Clinton, a reserve of charisma and likability that have made it hard to turn fully against him. Old timers who recall the 2000 presidential election will remember the strong sense, during the vice-presidential debate, that if America could just bypass the two jokers at the top of the tickets and vote for those standup guys Joe Lieberman and Dick Cheney, the country might not be headed into such a mess. Even this quality seems to have deserted Vinegar Joe in defeat, as he makes surreal references in his concession speech to the return of "the old politics of partisan polarization."

It's not clear that yesterday's primary defeat will be the end of Joe Lieberman. As with Freddy, Chucky, Jason, and Napoleon, we can never be truly sure he's finished, and the Nutmeg State has a history of being friendly to newly-minted independent candidates. But Lieberman is suffering today, and that's good enough. Over the years, Reason has been a relentless counterforce to the crushing weight of Joe-mentum, and here are some highlights:

Jacob Sullum drowned out Lieberman's call to ban devil music in the late 1990s, and wondered where the senator's support for Social Security and Affirmative Action reform went when Al Gore came a-callin'. Sullum also challenged Lieberman to a multiplayer game of Doom when Lieberman and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) took on violent entertainment. When the celebrity-mad Lieberman started stocking Senate panels on the environment with pop stars, Charles Oliver led a paparazzi party poop. Michael Lynch rocked with former Silver Sewer nominees who were nevertheless supporting the Gore/Lieberman ticket. At the peak of the senator's ostentatious piety, Jacob Sullum reinterpreted Lieberman's holy writ.

Nick Gillespie marveled at how Lieberman managed to connect Howard Dean, Saddam Hussein, and the death penalty into one incoherent blather. New Democratic Senate nominee Ned Lamont told Reason Lieberman's Schiavo stance should encourage libertarians to vote against him. Connecticut's own Mike Alissi tracked the Republican efforts to save Lieberman's career and appreciated the senator's more recent Schiavo two-step. Jeff A. Taylor cast a plague on both Lieberman and Lamont.

David Weigel, who met Lamont in the flesh, and was there when the Daily Kos first threw his T-shirt into the ring for him, tracks Lieberman's defeat, cheers on millionaire dilettante politicians, questions the Republicans' apparent strategy of doubling down on support for the Iraq war, and wonders who will take Lieberman's place as the Senate's killjoy in chief. Mike Alissi, who watched campaign finance law come to Lieberman's rescue right before Michael Schiavo came to Lamont's, celebrates the bad news for both parties.