From Dewayne Wickham at TRIBLIVE|Opinion:
Last year was the year of the unlikely hero. It was dominated by the ascendancy of Barack Obama, a slender black guy with a hip gait and a finely tuned political mind, into this nation’s highest office.
But 2009 has turned out to be the year of the anti-hero. It is the year in which Joe Lieberman gets my nod — cynical though it is — as “American of the Year.”
A Democrat of convenience, Lieberman has succeeded in doing what Benedict Arnold couldn’t. In a masterful act of treachery, he retains a position of trust among the very people he betrayed.
By threatening to join a Republican filibuster, Lieberman forced Democrats to strip first a public option — and then a Medicare buy-in compromise — from the Senate’s health care bill, provisions many experts and activists consider essential to effective reform.
During the Revolutionary War, Arnold — a Continental Army general — plotted to turn over West Point to the British. When his scheme was discovered, he fled to Canada on a British warship appropriately called The Vulture. Had he been caught, Arnold likely would have been court-martialed and hanged.
Instead of suffering an equivalent political fate, Lieberman remains a member of the Democrats’ caucus and continues as chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee. With 60 members, which is the number needed to break a Republican filibuster, Democrats would rather keep a traitor in their midst than put him to flight.
[D]uring a speech to the Republican National Convention [during John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign], Lieberman referred to himself several times as a Democrat — despite the fact that in 2006, this gadfly of political allegiance ran as an independent. Why? Because he lost the Democrat primary and this shift from D to I was the only way he could retain his seat.
But in working to strip the Senate’s health care bill of the public option and Medicare buy-in provisions, Lieberman proved to be far from a loyal Democrat. Some critics charge that Lieberman, the Democratic Party’s vice-presidential candidate in 2000, was doing the bidding of the insurance industry in gutting the bill. He has received more than $1 million from insurance interests since 1990, the Center for Responsive Politics has reported.
While Lieberman isn’t the only “Democrat” who waffled in supporting the Senate bill, he was the most uncompromising — and appeared to take the greatest delight in tweaking the noses of his Democrat caucus colleagues. And for this you’ve got to admire the guy’s shamelessness. Somehow, he has convinced Democrats they are better off with him in their ranks. They cling to Lieberman in the hope that he’ll help them beat back a filibuster despite all that he exacts from them and the little he gives in return.
While Benedict Arnold might be his equal when it comes to guile, Joe Lieberman is unmatched in his ability to persuade those he betrays to treat him as a friend instead of the enemy he really is.
DeWayne Wickham is a columnist for USA Today.