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Lieberman, Then and Now

By Kate Phillips at the New York Times

ST. PAUL — Senator Joseph I. Lieberman’s speech tonight will likely be a testament to his deep alliance and friendship with Senator John McCain, but it also will likely fray even further — if not sever — his longstanding affiliation with the Democratic Party.

The Democrat-turned-independent senator from Connecticut had continued to caucus with Democrats in their most recent session before the summer break. And just last week Majority Leader Senator Harry Reid told the Las Vegas Review Journal that he was still resistant to the clamor from Democrats and liberal bloggers at sites like Liebermanmustgo.com to kick Mr. Lieberman out of his Democratic Senate positions.

“All my close votes, he’s always with me, whether it’s the budget or energy issues,” Mr. Reidsaid in the interview. “No matter what it is, he’s always with us. He just does not vote right on Iraq. … Why would I want to throw away a good vote?”

Since Mr. Reid’s remarks, however, Mr. Lieberman almost became Senator John McCain’s running mate on the Republican ticket. And Mr. Lieberman’s votes in the Senate may not be so critical next year, given that the Democrats are likely to increase their slim 51-49 margin advantage because six or seven Republican seats are highly vulnerable this fall.

In the meantime, Mr. Lieberman’s staunch defense of Mr. McCain — not to mention tonight’s high-profile speaking role — continues to anger leading Democrats.

(Senator Lindsey Graham seemed to suggest today that Mr. Lieberman might steal the show tonight from President Bush’s video. What does that mean? Remember that not long ago Mr. Lieberman wouldn’t rule out switching his party affiliation to Republican, and he has continued to blast Democrats for their positions on the Iraq war. Last year, he went so far as to call the liberal base of the party “politically paranoid, hyper-partisan.”)

But despite much upset on the part of Democrats over Mr. Lieberman’s decision to play turncoat on some issues, there remains a sense of weirdness about his appearance here at the R.N.C. Just eight years ago, the Connecticut senator was the Democratic vice presidential nominee.

His speech at the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles is replete with references to major divides between the two parties on nearly every issue. In fact, he said, “We see everything through a different set of eyes.”

In one of the segments, Mr. Lieberman mentions Senator McCain as a friend, but borrows the “straight talk” line to castigate Republicans. (Mr. McCain had just undergone major surgery for melanoma — that’s what prompted Mr. Lieberman to say he was thinking of him.

Below, Mr. Lieberman outlined in 2000 a few significant policy divides that still exist between Democrats and Republicans.

Two weeks ago, our Republican friends tried to walk and talk a lot like us. But let’s be honest, we may be near Hollywood, but not since Tom Hanks won an Oscar has there been that much acting in Philadelphia.


As my friend John McCain might say — and let me say that John is in our thoughts and prayers tonight — let me now do some straight talking.

I think it’s a good thing that our opponent talks about the environment.
But I’m sad to say that in Texas, the quality of the air and water is some of the worst in America.

We see the environment through a different set of eyes.

For more than 20 years Al Gore has been a leader on the environment. Their tax plan operates under that old theory that the best way to feed the birds is to give more oats to the horse.

We see the surplus through a different set of eyes the eyes of working middle-class families.

We want to use America’s hard-earned success to preserve the future of Social Security and Medicare, to pay off our national debt, and cut the taxes of middle class families. We want to make the investments that will keep our economy moving forward. It’s this simple: We Democrats will expand the prosperity. They will squander it.

Perhaps the most telling segment, in light of the way the Iraq war spawned the ever-burgeoning rift between Mr. Lieberman and his party:

Al Gore is a man of courage and conviction. He believes in service to America. He volunteered for Vietnam. Together, we crossed party lines to support the Gulf War.

I was there in the room when he forcefully argued that America’s principles and interests were at stake in Bosnia and Kosovo.

Two weeks ago, our opponent claimed that America has a hollow military.

I must tell you, that made me angry.

America, we know better than that. Our fighting men and women are the best-trained, best-equipped, most potent fighting force in the history of the world, and they will stay that way when Al Gore and I are elected.

Well, as we all know, the Democratic ticket lost in 2000. Eight years later, Mr. Lieberman is set to give a major 20-minute speech in the opposing party’s arena in prime time. It’s a platform that is bound to make him more reviled among liberal Democrats.

Last week, a delegate told The Times’s Mark Leibovich that Mr. Lieberman was far more unwelcome at the Democratic convention than John Edwards, neither of whom showed up. “Edwards was only unfaithful to his wife,” the delegate said. “Lieberman was unfaithful to an entire party.”

Under tonight’s circumstances, we asked Senator Reid’s top aide, Jim Manley, if the majority leader would revisit Mr. Lieberman’s status any sooner. Mr. Manley replied: “As far as Senator Reid is concerned, Senator Lieberman can speak to whomever he wants. Nothing in his speech tonight will change what Senator Reid and the majority of the American people know: that Senator Obama is going to be the next President of the United States. Senator McCain is wrong on the issues and does not have the temperament necessary for the job.”

Still, Mr. Lieberman may find himself sleeping on a couch outside the Democratic tent after this evening.