Saturday, November 08, 2008

Choices have consequences

Choices are not necessarily good or bad. Consequences are not necessarily good or bad either. But it is a truth of physics that actions have reactions. It is a truth of philosophy that choices have consequences.

A man made a choice to get involved in public service.

The people of his state made a choice between him and somebody else on who would best represent them in the US Senate.

They did this based on what he said about himself and his beliefs knowing that these would guide him in the subsequent decisions he would have to make in the Senate.

Sometime later Vice President Al Gore made the decision to choose this man, Sen. Joe Lieberman, as his running mate and Vice Presidential candidate. He made this choice based on various factors but the main one was that this man would help other people chose him for President. For other reasons that choice didn't work out so well and we and the rest of the world have all suffered the consequences ever since.

Joe Lieberman was known to be a man of integrity. He had strong beliefs, based his choices on those beliefs, and stuck by those beliefs no matter the consequences.

Joe Lieberman made a decision to support the Bush War in Iraq. I strongly disagree with his choice but respect his right to make it and respect his right to stick by that choice... as blatantly obviously wrong as that choice has proven to be.

The beauty of our democratic system is that we get to review the choices we make for representatives on a regular basis and change them if we decide they were wrong or a better choice is available.

The members of the Democratic Party in the state of Connecticut had the opportunity to review their previous choice of Joe Lieberman as their Senator and they rejected him. Primarily, but not solely, on his staunch support for the Bush War. Unfortunately however, Joe Lieberman got two chances that year and the people of the entire state of Connecticut overrode the decision of the Democrats by electing Joe Lieberman as an independent candidate to the US Senate.

Joe Lieberman was not happy with the decision of Connecticut Democrats but he made the decision to stick with the party and continued to caucus with the Democratic Party in the US Senate.

But he also decided to stick, quite obstinately, with his support for the Bush War in Iraq and various other Bush-Republican positions that Democrats strongly opposed.

The consequence of opposing the Democratic position so often on such integral issues and doing so in a very public manner is that many, many Democrats decided to oppose him equally as strongly. However, due to practical political situations, other Democrats decided to stand by him saying, "He's with us on everything except the war." This was not completely true but that was the position they decided to take and they stuck to it. Part of their decision was to allow him to retain his seniority within the Democratic Caucus and prominent Committee Chairmanships that came with it.

Joe Lieberman then decided to support his friend and colleague, John McCain of the Republican Party, against his former parties candidate, Senator Barack Obama.

Joe Lieberman then decided to actively, very actively, campaign on behalf of Republican John McCain against Democrat Barack Obama. Further, he decided to act as an attack dog (a role he had previously played while still a full member of the Democratic Party in an intra-party battle against Gov. Howard Dean) for the Republicans against Obama and engaged with very public, very strong, smear filled attacks against the Democratic candidate and the Democratic party.

Joe Lieberman then decided to take it even further and campaign for other Republicans, including Republican Senators Norm Coleman and Susan Collins, against the Democratic Party candidates. In other words, he decided to actively work against the interests of the party caucus he had previously decided to join and which had previously decided to reward him by maintaining him as a member in good standing with seniority.

The election is over and now new decisions need to be made. Decisions and choices that have consequences just like all the previous decisions had consequences.

I would suggest we take a clear view of the current situation and the choices that need to be made.

The Democratic Caucus in the Senate has grown and as they approach a new Congress they must decide on leadership positions and the general pecking order within their caucus.

Joe Lieberman as an independent will have a choice whether to ask to be allowed to caucus with the Democrats again or whether he would prefer to caucus with his friends in the Republican caucus.

The members in good standing of whichever party he chooses then has a choice as to whether to accept or reject his request to be a member.

Joe Lieberman has, by his actions, lost his previous good standing within the Democratic Caucus. One cannot work at complete cross-purposes to the group one is a member of and retain good standing. His actions are the antithesis of good standing.

The logical process in the Senate Democratic Caucus organizational meeting would be to have current Democratic Senators aligned according to seniority followed by the incoming freshmen Democratic Senators. Assuming Independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders requests once again to caucus with the Democratic caucus, a decision would be made as to where he fits in. Odds are that as Bernie Sanders has acted with complete good faith with his Democratic colleagues and maintained a good standing with the caucus he has chosen to be a member of that he would be fitted into the seniority pecking order as if he were a full fledged Democrat.

Should Joe Lieberman make a similar choice to request to caucus with the Democratic Party then his request could be accepted or rejected. I would personally be tempted to reject him but would have no objections to accepting his humble request to caucus with Democrats.

However, Joe Lieberman made a choice to not work in good faith with the Democratic Caucus and consequently to divest himself of his previous good standing within that caucus. Should he request and should his request be accepted his placement within the pecking order would logically be as last man. This means no committee chairmanships, no sub-committee chairmanships, no seniority ranking. Incoming freshmen with a clean slate have a higher standing than a member in bad standing.

No chairmanships, no senior rankings for Joe. He chose to side with the Republicans. He chose to remove effectively himself from the caucus. It is a fait accompli. If he chooses to rejoin he starts at the very bottom.

If Joe doesn’t like that option then it is his choice, not the Democrats, to remain independent or to switch sides to the Republicans where it is then their choice where to place him in their pecking order.

One Democratic Senator expressed concern about a starting the new session with a "messy fight" in the Democratic caucus. There is no need for a “messy fight.” Joe effectively quit the caucus. Treat it that way. Allow him to rejoin if he wants but he rejoins with less seniority then the freshmen just elected.

This is all Joe’s doing. It’s Joe’s choice. It’s Joe’s mess.

Neither he nor the mess belong to Democrats. Don’t claim ownership of Joe or the mess and you won’t own it.

Almost every article that discusses the "Lieberman situation" talks about "revenge" and "retribution" against Lieberman. While, hell yes, I would personally like to take revenge against Lieberman for his actions, that is not what this is about. He made a choice. Choices have consequences. The consequence of his choice to work with Republicans against Democrats is loss of good standing in the Democratic Caucus. If he wants back in that’s fine but he has the responsibility to re-earn good standing. He starts without it due to his own choices. He made the mess. The onus is on him to clean it up.


BurrDeming said...

Good observations, but a little on the charitable side.

The anger against Joe Lieberman goes back to 2006.

He was not the only Senator who continued to support a forever occupation. There were others. But even then he was unique as a Democrat in going out of his way to taunt those whose support he demanded.

A Siegel said...

This is a quite good piece, lay down. As Barbara Boxer said to James Inhofe "Elections have consequences," Reid/the Democratic Caucus should say to Lieberman/the Democratic Party/the nation "choices have consequences".

While I would have hated it, Lieberman could have said "I've known John for X years and, while I respect Barack Obama, I have great confidence in John." If it had stopped there, then maybe he'd have a case. But, he went to the RNC prominently. He attacked Obama, prominently. He fought for Republican Senators in tough elections. He fostered, at best, disingenuous attacks on Obama with the nation's Jewish community. (Would Obama have gotten 5+% more of the Jewish vote without Lieberman supporting McCain so vociferously?) And, laughably and disgracefully, he praised Sarah Palin with over the top language.

Democratic Party Senators need to look past 'he's a nice and personable guy' and impose some discipline. Joe made his choice and should face the costs of his choice.

And, if they keep in the caucus, we will see the price for indulgence of disgraceful actions: a $250,000 donation to the DSCC.