Joe Lieberman Being Shunned by Democrats

Joe Lieberman, the darling of his party when he was making things close in Florida in 2000, is apparently becoming a pariah now that he is supporting the war effort during a time when President Bush has low poll numbers. This is evident in two nearly-identical articles in the country’s two most influential newspapers.

Lieberman’s Iraq Stance Brings Widening Split With His Party (NYT)

Five years after running as the vice-presidential nominee on the Democratic ticket and a year after his own presidential bid, Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut has become an increasingly unwelcome figure within his party, with some Democrats seeing him more as a wayward son than a favorite son. In the last few days, the senator has riled Democratic activists and politicians here and in his home state with his vigorous defense of President Bush’s handling of the Iraq war at a time some Democrats are pressuring the administration to begin a withdrawal. Mr. Lieberman particularly infuriated his colleagues when he pointed out at a conference here that President Bush would be commander in chief for three more years and said that “it’s time for Democrats who distrust President Bush to acknowledge that.”


Mr. Lieberman, who remains immensely popular in his home state, is aware of the hornet’s nest he has stirred. “Some Democrats said I was being a traitor,” he said in an interview on Friday, adding that he was not surprised by the reaction, “given the depth of feeling about the war.”

Although some Democrats are upset with Mr. Lieberman, Republicans are embracing him, with President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld singling him out, and his support for the war, for praise in speeches this week. “He is entirely correct,” Mr. Cheney said on Tuesday at Fort Drum, N.Y. “On this, both Republicans and Democrats should be able to agree. The only way the terrorists can win is if we lose our nerve and abandon our mission.”

Concerns about Mr. Lieberman’s coziness with the administration grew this week when he had breakfast with Mr. Rumsfeld at the Pentagon. Later, rumors spread that Mr. Bush was considering asking Mr. Lieberman to join the administration to succeed Mr. Rumsfeld next year as defense secretary. “It’s a total fantasy,” Mr. Lieberman said. “There’s just no truth to it.”


Mr. Lieberman noted that his positions on Iraq had not changed over the years, dating from 1991, when he supported the first Persian Gulf war. In 1998, he and Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, proposed the Iraq Liberation Act, which made the overthrow of President Saddam Hussein official American policy. “The positive and negative reactions may have less to do with the substance of what I said than with the fact that a Democrat is saying it,” Mr. Lieberman said. “It reflects the terribly divisive state of our politics.”


Tom Matzzie, the Washington director for, a liberal advocacy group with 10,000 members in Connecticut, said it would consider a challenge if the right candidate came along. “It’s like a betrayal,” Mr. Matzzie said of Mr. Lieberman’s stand on the war. “He is cheering the Bush Iraq policy at a time when Republicans are running away from the president.”

Lieberman Wins Republican Friends, Democratic Enemies With Support for War (WaPo, A1)

Five years ago, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman was one of President Bush’s arch political rivals. Now many in his party complain that he sounds more like Bush’s running mate.

The Connecticut Democrat’s strong public defense of Bush’s handling of the Iraq war has provided the White House with an invaluable rejoinder to intensifying criticism from other Democrats. In public statements and a newspaper column, Lieberman has argued that Bush has a strategy for victory in Iraq, has dismissed calls for the president to set a timetable for troop withdrawal, and has warned that it would be a “colossal mistake” for the Democratic leadership to “lose its will” at this critical point in the war.

Lieberman’s contrarian behavior is not out of character — he is far more hawkish than the majority of Democrats, and he has vigorously backed invading Iraq and toppling Saddam Hussein from the beginning. But the latest defense of Bush and his stinging salvos at some in his own party have infuriated Democrats, who say he is undercutting their effort to forge a consensus on the war and draw clear distinctions with Republicans before the 2006 elections.


Then, at a Tuesday news conference on Iraq, Lieberman gave his party a tongue-lashing for pressing Bush too forcefully. “History will judge us harshly if we do not stretch across the divide of distrust to join together to complete our mission successfully in Iraq,” Lieberman said. “It’s time for Democrats who distrust President Bush to acknowledge that he will be the commander in chief for three more critical years, and that in matters of war, we undermine presidential credibility at our nation’s peril.”

Many Democrats were appalled by Lieberman’s comments, although few were willing to reprimand him publicly. “Senator Lieberman is past the point of being taken seriously in the caucus because everything he does is seen as advancing his own self-interest, instead of the Democratic interest,” said a senior Senate Democratic aide, who described discontent in that chamber as “widespread.” The liberal antiwar group is weighing whether to back a challenger to Lieberman. MoveOn Washington director Tom Matzzie called Weicker “a very attractive candidate” but added that “the easiest way to take out Joe Lieberman would be in a Democratic primary.”

Lieberman is, in many ways, the Democrats’ John McCain: a well respected Senator who agrees with the party line 90 pecent of the time but gets villified for the other 10 percent. My sense is that Lieberman enjoys tweaking his party less than McCain, but that may well be just a matter of vantagepoint.

I understand that most Democratic leaders now oppose the war and that they are hoping to turn that into victory in 2006. Many Republicans fear, even expect, that to happen. Still, the treatment of Lieberman is somewhat surprising.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. bindare says:

    “”Senator Lieberman is past the point of being taken seriously in the caucus because everything he does is seen as advancing his own self-interest, instead of the Democratic interest,” said a senior Senate Democratic aide,”
    It seems to me that just the opposite is true. Lieberman speaks, not in his own self-interest but in the interests of the United Ststes. It is most of the other Defeatocrates that are motivated by partisan advantage to the detriment of what is best for the USA.

  2. Steve Plunk says:

    Being a Republican I disagree with many of Sen. Lieberman’s stances on the issues. However, I trust him probably more than any other Senator in Washington. McCain seems to put his own interests first, losing my trust. Joe Lieberman, as said in the previous post, puts the interests of the United States ahead of his own almost all the time. He certainly puts the interests of the Democratic party down on the list of priorities.

  3. ken says:

    McCain, like so many democrats, is war hero being demonized by republicans.

    Leiberman, like so many republicans, is a chicken hawk being called out by democrats.

    I don’t see the equivalence between them James. One is a good guy being treated poorly by his own party and the other guy is just an opportunist getting what he deserves.

  4. Bithead says:

    This is precisely why we heard so many Donks on the talking head shows last weekend, suggesting he’d make a fine Sec Def. I mean, you don’t really think they’re about getting the best man for the job to make Bush look good, do ya, really?

    McCain, like so many democrats…

    Doesn’t that just say it all…

  5. Tbird1107 says:

    Lieberman hasn’t necessarily changed his position.
    From the Democratic Presidential debates in ’04

    “Q: Does anyone have a time frame for when the US troops can be pulled out?

    A:(Lieberman) We’ve learned from history, you cannot set a time line in this kind of situation. You’ve got to set a goal line. Because if you set a time line by which you’re going to exit, your enemy will lay back and then strike when you leave. The goal is to stabilize Iraq. When that happens, we can leave.
    Source: Democratic 2004 Primary Presidential Debate in Durham NH

  6. bindare says:

    The biggest difference between Lieberman and his party leadership is the same as the difference between common sense and none sense.

  7. lily says:

    One of the problems with converstaions about this war is that people act like there are only two positions: support the war or oppose it, the implication being that opposing it means the advocacy of an immediate withdrawal. In fact, a person could view the initial invasion as a mistake based on misinformation while still believing that we have to plan future involvement in some kind of reasonable way to avoid some serious possible negative consequences. The dispute amongst the Democrats is primary within this point of view: should we have a timeline, base withdrawal on benchmarks, etc. The Democrats are also honestly facing up to the fact that without a draft we will have to have some kind of withdrawal. The Bush position, by the way, is not to stay and “win”. It’s to withdraw based on domestic political considerations while declaring victory. This has to be Bush’s position because he isn’t willing to discuss a draft and we will run out of soldiers in the foreseeable future. . The problem with Lieberman is that the not only does think the invasion was a good idea (which is demonstrably nuts)but he parrots the empty we-must-win rhetoric of the Administration and joins them in the attacks on the integrity and patriotism of Democrats who want to develop a reality based (as opposed to spinbased) plan for the future.
    I don’t like personal attacks being made on anyone because of their opinion on an issue. I would prefer that Lieberman not be shunned or mocked. I also think he should stay off Fox News and and clean up his own behavior.

  8. Herb says:


    I can tell everyone sure fact about Leiberman:

    He does not carr a WHITE flag like so many in his party do.

    But then again, He is not French like Kerry.

  9. Ralph says:

    The invasion was demonstrably effective. A murdering dictator is gone. “Nuts” is what General McAuliffe replied to the German demand for surrender (Bastogne, Dec 22, 1944). Nuts is what I say to “white flag” leftists.

    The rhetoric is demonstrably NOT empty. As a constituent, I have written Sen. Lieberman a number of times to applaud his position in this matter. The “benchmarks” have been there for a very long time. They were the elections and referendum that have taken place on schedule.

    Ever see the facial expression of a cat who has “lost it” and is sliding, hind-quarters first, off of a slick table-top? This is the face of the Dean, Pelosi, Kerry, and Kennedy Democrats sliding off the left-hand side of American politics. Oh, they’ll land on their feet — but, as Robert’s Rules might put it, may their public positions fall to the ground nonetheless.

  10. Anderson says:

    Steve Plunk:

    McCain seems to put his own interests first, losing my trust. Joe Lieberman, as said in the previous post, puts the interests of the United States ahead of his own almost all the time.

    In that context, this 2003 quote from Lieberman is amusing:

    In the day’s sharpest attack, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) accused Bush of deceiving Americans over everything from national security to helping the poor. “There has been one value repeatedly missing from this presidency, and that value is integrity,” Lieberman said. “By deception and disarray, this White House has betrayed the just cause of fighting terrorism and tyranny around the world.” Leaking the CIA employee’s name “was the politics of personal destruction at its worst,” he said.

    What’s changed since then? Only that Joe ain’t running for Prez any more … at least, not on the Democratic ticket.

    But the best putdown of Lieberman, albeit indirect, came from Rep. Murtha:

    QUESTION: Mr. Murtha, what do you say to Senator Lieberman whom yesterday said Democrats need to acknowledge that this president is commander in chief for three more years, that undermining his credibility. . . .

    “MURTHA: Undermining his credibility? What has he said that would give him credibility?

    “He said there was Al Qaida connection. He said there was a connection with nuclear weapons. He said there’s biological, chemical weapons there. He said there’s progress now. I’m showing you that I don’t see the kind of progress he sees. . . .

    Heh, to coin a phrase.

  11. DL says:

    Don’t confuse Joe Lieberman’s strong stance on this war with his liberism and his showboating in the mode of Pontious Pilate. He’s a pro-partial birth abortion liberal and one who will sell his priciples quickly. Did you forget his morph job when he was handed the VP slot?

    Joe-the hand wringer- is strong on Iraq because he is a strong Orthodox Jew and believes in protecting Israel -period! Be Careful not to pull a lovefest like Hannity and pledge to support this guy!