Last week, Democrats said there could be repercussions after Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman spoke at the Republican National Convention and said Barack Obama lacks the experience to be president.
“Senator Obama is a gifted and eloquent young man who can do great things for our country in the years ahead. But eloquence is no substitute for a record,” said the 2000 Democratic vice-presidential nominee.
Lieberman added that Obama “has not reached across party lines to get anything significant done, nor has he been willing to take on powerful interest groups in the Democratic Party.”
As a result of those comments, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Lieberman’s membership in the Democratic caucus could be compromised.
“Senator Reid was very disappointed in Senator Lieberman’s speech, especially when he appeared to go out of his way to distort Senator Obama’s record of bipartisanship achievements in the Senate,” said Reid’s spokesman, Jim Manley.
“The Democratic caucus will likely revisit the situation with Senator Lieberman after the elections in November.”
That’s ironic, considering that the only reason Reid currently holds the title of "majority" Senate leader is because Lieberman agreed to continue caucusing with the Democrats after they abandoned him in 2006.
With Lieberman on their side, the Democrats hold a 51-49 lead in the Senate. Without him, the Republicans regain the "majority," because the president of the Senate, Vice President Dick Cheney, would break the 50-50 tie.
For those who have forgotten, Lieberman, a lifelong Democrat, was beaten in the Connecticut Democratic primary in 2006 by a liberal millionaire who ran against him for supporting President Bush and the War in Iraq.
After Lieberman lost in the primary, the party faithfully got behind their candidate, Ned Lamont, and Lieberman had to seek re-election as an independent. Lieberman won the general election and announced he would caucus with the Democrats, giving them the majority in the Senate.
Since then, Lieberman has kept his promise by caucusing with the Democrats, but he has actively supported and campaigned with Republican presidential candidate John McCain.
He should not be punished for this, however. Just as he did with his support for the war, Lieberman is following his conscience and doing what he thinks is right.
Last December, when Lieberman endorsed McCain, he explained: “Being a Republican is important. Being a Democrat is important. But you know what's more important than that? The interest and well-being of the United States of America.”
Lieberman’s conviction should be respected, whether he agrees with other Democrats or not. The fact that the majority of Connecticut voters still elected him as an independent, even after he lost the Democratic nomination, proves his constituents want a senator who says what he believes even when his position strays from the party line.
According to the Washington Post, Democratic senators have privately said that Lieberman may face sanctions if they win a clear majority in November, since Democrats could then -- and only then -- afford to have him cross the aisle to the Republican side. If he were to do that now, the Democrats would lose control of the Senate.
If the majority of Democrats in the Senate feel as strongly as Reid does about Lieberman’s comments, then the party should take action now and show the same kind of conviction Lieberman has shown, regardless of the consequences.
The Democratic Party should be thankful to Joe Lieberman. Although they abandoned him during the 2006 election, he remained loyal to them in the Senate, which gave them a chance against the Republican-controlled White House.
He should not be punished for simply saying what he believes, even if it was at the Republican convention. After all, Joe Lieberman never left the Democratic Party -- the Democratic Party left him.
Jeffrey Scott Shapiro is a reporter and lawyer. He interned for John F. Kerry’s legal team during the 2004 election and traveled to Connecticut from Florida in 2006 to campaign for Senator Joe Lieberman. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jeffrey Scott Shapiro is an investigative journalist currently reporting on the Russian Federation.