• Rob Spectre
  • 15
  • Dec
  • 09

As the final year of this decade of fail draws to a close, everyone with a keyboard is making a list and checking it twice.  It’s the hour for picking the winners and picking the losers; the snoozer season when writers can phone it in for a few weeks with top ten drivel and self-serving ratings.  For those with an eye on Washington, we are producing a familiar name on lists both favorable and failing:  Joe Lieberman.

Photo: US Senate

Photo: US Senate

He kicked off the 21st century as the base play on the Democratic ticket – the guy who was supposed to solidify the Democratic diehards behind former veep Al Gore during his impossible run against the red state calculus that had tilted in strong favor of George W. Bush.  He was the guy to whip Clinton’s old guard behind the less charismatic, but no less thoughtful, leader of a new Democratic party.  Neither he nor his commander-in-chief-to-be succeeded in either task, little match against a decade of gerrymandered districts and Karl Rove’s timely tactics.

Just under ten years ago, Joe Lieberman was the guy you went to if you needed Democrats on your side.  Now, they can barely speak his name without spitting it.  Particularly as we near the endgame for Barack Obama’s healthcare initiative, Lieberman (I-CT)  may be a pariah in cocktail party circles but his careful manipulation of the letter beside his home state has assured his spot as a power broker in the United States Congress.

This week was one where his handiwork was particularly characteristic.  With a single press conference he catapulted himself from the annoying periphery of voices regurgitating talking points to the place where he always seems to end up – the center of the action.  No sooner was a compromised healthcare package announced by Harry Reid’s Democratic caucus that was it torpedoed effortlessly by a short public statement of opposition by Lieberman.  Within hours of his remarks, party leaders were hurriedly meeting and scurrying about, with Joe’s smug smile to greet them across the table.

A few days later, the public option is out.  Early Medicare buy-in is out.  And several previously core provisions of a healthcare reform bill already neutered in committee now seem to be on the table.  Lieberman is playing coy, saying he is “moving towards a yes vote.”   The store might be sold outright by the time the deal is done, leading some on the progressive side of the supposed Democratic supermajority to squeal.  Even some used to the pariah label themselves are calling for an outright revolt, with former DNC chairman (and real-life doctor) Howard Dean calling for the Senate bill to be killed.

Indeed it would seem that Lieberman holds all the cards in Washington and by the masterful straddling of the aisle until the last possible second, he has usurped even the President of the United States as the sole man in America who says what will or will not happen.

If only Lieberman were that man.

But behind the eye popping headlines is the truth that Lieberman is just an instrument of a larger machine, a pawn in a game with stakes so high the odds are always certain.  Were his stand against the Medicare buy-in the principled stance of a deficit hawk holding firm, Democrats would have great cause for concern with Joe Lieberman.  The problem is, he doesn’t believe a bit of it.  Just this past September – three months ago – he said straight into a rolling camera that he believed that people should be able to buy into Medicare at the age of 55.

What caused the flip-flop?  In September, public universal healthcare looked like it could really happen.  Now with the negotiations dragged on by Republicans and Reid’s ineffective caucus coming up short in the red zone, the public option is thoroughly defeated.  With that obstacle down, Lieberman is free to turn on the firehose to water down the bill even more.  While Obama takes a bath in the negotiating room, the bill soaks up the excess until it poses little danger at all to the status quo.

How did the status quo effect such a dramatic change of heart in Joe Lieberman?  Through over $1 million in donations from health insurance in this decade.    During his last campaign in 2006, he ranked second in the Senate for health insurance donations.  And his home state is headquarters to many of the nation’s leading insurance companies, employing 22,000 in Connecticut.  The private health insurance system that raked in billions keeping America sick during the last ten years paid for Lieberman’s independent run.

And this year, that investment is looking awfully sound.

But before Joe Lieberman is vilified as the Judas Big Healthcare bought to kill the public option, before he makes the tops of the movers and the bottoms of the shakers, we should consider his company.

He’s not the only one on the payroll.

http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2009/12/15/lieberman-moving-towards-a-yes-vote/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+rss%2Fcnn_politicalticker+%28Blog%3A+Political+Ticker%29&utm_content=Google+Reader
  • Rob Spectre
  • 21
  • Nov
  • 09

It’s been a while since the Democratic Party tasted win.  Outplayed since March by a small, but clever Republican opposition, the only tangible political victory the Obama-led Dems has been the gimme-election in New York’s 23rd Congressional District.  That contest – more a product of GOP self-destruction than strong Democratic campaigning – still leaves the landslide Democratic government rapidly closing out its first year solidly in the red, scuttled more by their own dissension than their opponent’s unity.

But in the clutch vote for cloture for Obama’s number one legislative priority, Harry Reid’s supposed supermajority Senate is coming through.  Securing the last vote mere hours before the roll call, Reid disproved the smart money that he could deliver the votes when it really mattered.  Undoubtedly, the votes of Blanche Lincoln and Mary Landrieu, the last holdouts over the cloture motion, came at some significant cost to the more liberal elements of healthcare reform, but early indications suggest the store was not sold to bring healthcare to the floor.

For the more jaded observers among us, that cloture was ever in doubt is further evidence of our decline.  In the incomprehensibly meta game of the modern American legislative process, just getting to talk about a bill is a landmark victory.  Just getting a bill to a floor debate has, for a decade through the disruptive work of both sides of the aisle, become dental work; a thoroughly unpleasant grind that barely staves off the inevitable loss of its subject.

It is unlikely the modern model of passing law is what our Founding Fathers had in mind.  Passing laws should be this difficult, debating them should not particularly with a electoral mandate this large.  That a supermajority has to perform this many roots canal in order to get its primary objective accomplished suggests a procedural perversion of the original intent of the Constitution.  It’s a status quo for which both political parties should be rightly blamed; a condition where writing law is like making a Hollywood blockbuster – one phone call can kill everything.

But if tonight’s roll call reflects today’s dealmaking, it would seem that a supermajority is worth something after all, if it is an advantage that can only be leveraged once a year.

  • Rob Spectre
  • 27
  • Oct
  • 09

Barely a heartbeat after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced the Senate healthcare reform bill would include the public option, the odds on his gamble started to look longer and longer.  The White House quietly pulled back its support of Reid’s state-level opt-out provision.  The early nose counts from the press said Reid was still shy of the 60 votes needs for a cloture motion.  It didn’t take long then for a certain Connecticut independent to exploit his former colleague’s weakness.

The buzz in Washington all morning was whether or not Joe Lieberman was going to filibuster healthcare reform.  He kicked off the day announcing that he intended to filibuster the bill due to Reid’s inclusion of the public option.  His aides would confirm such throughout the day, saying the former Democrat would vote against cloture.   By the end of the day, Lieberman had returned to his usual wishy-washiness.  Talking Points Memo had the direct word:

I told Senator Reid that I’m strongly inclined–i haven’t totally decided, but I’m strongly inclined–to vote to proceed to the health care debate, even though I don’t support the bill that he’s bringing together because it’s important that we start the debate on health care reform because I want to vote for health care reform this year. But I also told him that if the bill remains what it is now, I will not be able to support a cloture motion before final passage. Therefore I will try to stop the passage of the bill.

Source: Talk Radio News Service

Photo: Talk Radio News Service

So by the close of Congressional business, all we know is that Lieberman may or may not be inclined to filibuster a bill he may or may not end up voting for, depending on “where things end up.”

What caused Lieberman to waffle after such a strong public statement earlier in the day?  Undoubtedly the immediate furious outrage on the Internet helped tilt his notoriously flaky barometer.

Joe Lieberman has been drifting in and out of trending topics on Twitter all day and little of it has been praise.  He is despised on the left for his opportunism and disdained by the right for his inconsistency.    Despite pledging to support universal healthcare just three years ago, Lieberman’s recent change of heart generated the kind of rebuke only Hell’s own Internet can spew:

Joe Lieberman is a joke… wrinkled-faced bastardo!

Joe Lieberman:  Huge douchebag, or hugest douchebag ever?

Joe Lieberman deserves a punch in the dick.

Though not as colorful, mainstream press was similarly skeptical with many talking heads observing that the senator’s flip-flop came at an awfully convenient moment politically.  Though it cannot be denied that this vote is going to be close, it is hard for many to see Lieberman’s move as anything more than a play to stay in the spotlight as Congress’s most important independent.

Many are joining the White House with a reaction decidedly unimpressed.  If an afternoon’s outrage is enough to make Lieberman waffle, his participation in the healthcare bill is unlikely to have any significance.  I think we’ve seen this picture before and know how it ends.

Joe Lieberman’s headlines today just highlight what we’ve known for a while – he’s all hat and no cowboy.

  • Rob Spectre
  • 21
  • Oct
  • 09

We’ve done our share of covering the activism that has recently become fashionable in this 21st Century, from reacting to continued inequality with a marathon walk through San Francisco to setting up camp in front of the Icelandic capital as a day-job.  It seems public demonstration is back in style in a way that hasn’t vogue since the Sixties and folks of every political stripe are joining the fun.  And, at long last, tea-bagging in the billy-infested hills of Kentucky and Rick-rolling dance parties with Anonymous finally have a competitor for the hippest peaceful assembly to further a political cause this year.

Photo by Jens Jockey

Photo by Jens Jockey

Ahead of Halloween this weekend, Santa Rosa, California -- a red town in a blue state -- will be host to a horde of zombies demonstrating in support healthcare reform.  Part public dissent in a West Coast Republican outpost, part performance art, all undead dance party, “Zombie Action” seems to be the latest attempt by the largely silent center-left to introduce some levity to the exhaustingly hyped healthcare debate:

Zombie Action!!! is a day of serious fun about a heartbreakingly serious issue. We are not down-playing the tragedy, but rather than protest AGAINST, we choose to protest FOR. We are FOR health care for everyone. We are FOR fun. The pursuit of happiness can’t happen without health.

Dressing up like zombies is unlikely to become common in the mainstream political theatre outside of California (even here less than 200 Facebook profiles have registered as attending), but events like “Zombie Action” do suggest a growing fatigue for the deadly serious and largely manufactured “grassroots” political game, particularly among young people.  The swastikas, the devil posters, the claims of socialism sound shrill even by the standards of an American generation whose politics has been defined on television.  Protests like this weekend’s faux-undead horde are a direct reaction of the young to that disintegration of political civility.

What does it say for the condition of the American healthcare debate that dressing up like zombies seems more sane?

  • Rob Spectre
  • 27
  • Sep
  • 09

Last week the New York Times and CBS published a poll that only 30% of Americans support Barack Obama’s healthcare plan, leading to claims of victory by the Glenn Beck set.

Not so fucking fast.

 

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