Discipline and Punish

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Whither Joe?

No, not our Joe.  Lieberman.  Do the senate Dems let him keep his committee chair, his other committee assignments, his seniority, and stay in the Dem caucus?  Do they boot him completely out of the caucus?  Do they do something in between?

To a large degree, I don’t care.  I mean, Lieberman’s a blue-ribbon jackass, but that’s hardly unusual in American politicians.  However, I do care in one respect, and that’s party discipline in the senate.  We’ve seen how disciplined the GOP caucus is, so we know that when big legislation come up for a vote on cloture, they are going to have their members whipped into line.  We also know that conservative Dems like Ben Nelson and Mark Pryor have a habit of going against their party.  So Harry Reid has got to be able to enforce some discipline on the troops if he’s going to have any chance of moving progressive legislation past the filibuster and through the senate.

If Lieberman can do everything he’s done in the last few years and not get punished for it, what would get a caucus member punished?  It’s hard to think of an answer.

It’s even harder to answer when you consider how weak a position Lieberman is in right now.  If the Dems punish him and he doesn’t like it, the worst he can do is go caucus with the GOP.  So what?  The ramifications of that are miniscule for the Dems, and huge for Lieberman.  The Dems would still control the senate by a comfortable margin, Joe would be caucusing with people who hated him 90% of the time (because that’s the rate at which he agrees with the Dems on policy), he would have no greater influence in the senate, and he’d almost certainly lose his seat in his next election.

As George Costanza would say, he’s got no hand in this relationship.

Weirdly, though, you still see quotes like this from anonymous Dem operatives:

“He’s got momentum, and we need to keep him in the caucus, and this fits into Barack Obama’s message of change and moving forward,” said one Senate Democratic aide familiar with discussions. “The message here is that we don’t want to start off a new era with retribution.”

What on Earth is s/he talking about?  What momentum does Joe have?  He just very publicly crossed his party in a presidential race to back the losing ticket; a ticket that lost by the widest margin in 20 years.  The nation disagrees with him on what he’s made practically his only issue: Iraq.  Joe’s moving right while the voters just moved left.  How does that give him momentum?

And “we need to keep him in the caucus” because . . . why was that, again?

As for retribution, as suggested above, one man’s retribution is another man’s discipline.  The Dem caucus does not have a filibuster-proof majority.  The GOP caucus will be very disciplined in opposition, as always.  So the Dems are going to have to be disciplined in leading.

I just don’t see how Reid will be able to maintain anything like discipline if he lets Lieberman off the hook, and that means the senate will continue to be a graveyard for good legislation.

Edited to Add:

The one scenario in which I could see this working is if by keeping Lieberman in the caucus, Reid had him in the situation Lyndon Johnson famously had V.P. Hubert Humphrey in.  Quoth Johnson: “I keep Hubert’s balls in my coat pocket.”

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10 Responses to “Discipline and Punish”

  1. Terry A. Says:

    What about — dare I say? (“Dare! Dare!”) — a cabinet post?

  2. urbino Says:

    I can’t imagine they’d offer him one he’d take. Not even Obama.

  3. michaellasley Says:

    as always, i know nothing of these things. what is the benefit of punishing lieberman? is it just to keep people in line in the future? and does the democratic party want to become like the republican party in the sense that it whips everyone into shape or sends them on their way? just curious.

  4. urbino Says:

    Interesting point, but I think it overstates the case. I don’t think taking action against Lieberman would make the Dems like the Republicans. They can’t boot him out of the party, as Republicans tend to want to do with dissidents, because he already left the party on his own; he left in 2006 to run against the person who won the party’s nomination for his senate seat.

    They’ve put up with him for the past 2 years as he’s campaigned against the party’s presidential candidate, even questioning the candidate’s patriotism. Campaigned on behalf of a man who called the Dems’ candidate a terrorist and a socialist, and refused, when asked, to disown that rhetoric.

    I think that, more than anything, is what galls. That is, Lieberman’s adoption of the most wall-eyed GOP rhetoric against the Dems. When a GOPer does it, one can tell oneself that, yes, it’s false and way over the top and out of line and not good for the country, but they’re FOX/Limbaugh/Coulter GOPers, so maybe that’s what they actually believe about Dems.

    Lieberman has no such excuse. He was a member of the party for his entire career until 2 years ago, and he’s still caucusing with them. He’s been in the Dem caucus meetings, he knows Dem voters, and therefore has no possible excuse for saying they hate America, just want to “cut and run,” etc. Yet he adopted that demonizing rhetoric, right along with the GOP.

    His good friend John McCain managed to disagree with his party about the conduct of the war back in 2004-05 without accusing them of wanting to lose or hating America, or even, IIRC, adopting the rhetorical phrases the Dems were using at the time to oppose the war.

    Other members of the Dem caucus managed to disagree with their party — in its initial support for the war resolution, or in its later opposition to the war — without demonizing it or adopting the Rovian rhetoric of the GOP. Nobody ever even suggested stripping those members of their chairmanships, committee assignments, or membership in the caucus. I doubt it even crossed anybody’s mind.

    Lieberman went far beyond dissent. Much too far.

    As for what the benefit of punishing him is, yes, as I argued in my post, I think it’s a caucus discipline issue.

  5. michaellasley Says:

    i did read some article or other saying that some leaders were definitely for punishing…..leahy, possibly? i forget. i’d try to find the article, but i assume you’ve read it or something like it.

    and i get what you’re saying about lieberman specifically. but i just meant in the more general sense…where will they draw the line on punishing people who simply disagree on something….will it keep others from speaking up and voicing their voices.

    but you’re right, they don’t *need* him. and so the dem leadership kind of has an embarassment of riches in the choosing-what-to-do-with-him department.

    everything i say about this, as you know, comes from a place of almost complete ignorance of the entire situation or the inner workings of committees and sub-committees and whathaveyou and soforth.

  6. urbino Says:

    but i just meant in the more general sense…where will they draw the line on punishing people who simply disagree on something….will it keep others from speaking up and voicing their voices.

    On that front I’d just repeat what I said above: that there have been other Dems who disagreed with, argued against, and voted against the party on various issues, and nobody has even raised the possibility of punishing them.

    Maybe in some cases they should have. I dunno. That’s Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi’s problem. I just think Lieberman went so far with it, he’s an outlier. A boundary case. If what he did won’t get you brought up short in the caucus, I don’t know what would.

  7. Terry A. Says:

    After giving this a lot of thought, here’s the course of action I think the Dems will take:

    1) He’ll keep his chairmanship;
    2) They’ll take away something smaller and less significant just to remind him who’s in charge;
    3) They’ll make a public statement about “looking forward, not back…”

    That’s what I would do, anyway.

  8. urbino Says:

    You should get a 900 number and give advice.

  9. Terry A. Says:

    I’ve got the 900 number, but it ain’t no advice line.

  10. Lieberman to Reid: You My B*tch « Hungry Hungry Hippos Says:

    […] said at the time that if Harry Reid didn’t punish Lieberman in some way, he would make it very difficult to […]

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