I doubt Joe Lieberman needed any outside encouragement to demonstrate his particular brand of weasel on health care reform.
However, Harry Reid might need some help seeing the golden opportunity staring him in the face, so here is some free advice for Harry: slap Lieberman in the face. Publicly.
I think most people can understand that some political negotiation is best carried out behind closed doors. There is a necessary element of accommodating vanities and concerns in any coalition-building, and so long as humans value a foolish consistency over the ability to compromise, leaders who compromise will want some cover. I get it.
That said, it is a blessing to have incompetent adversaries, and right now Harry has one. All he has to do is let Joe keep running his mouth and then go on TV and announce “Joe will vote to end debate or he will no longer vote as Chairman of the Homeland Security Committee; your guess is as good as mine which he will choose.”
By making a public threat, Reid backs himself into a corner – now he has to go through with it if Lieberman calls him on it. But it’s an easy threat to deliver. A Lieberman who will not vote with the Democrats on health care – and who has already defected on war – is useless. There is no other bill that will come close to a filibuster; carbon and immigration have much bigger problems than one guy, a Senator from Connecticut will always endorse finance companies in any financial services regulation review, and nothing else is of much excitement between now and 2010.
By announcing that Lieberman is useless, Reid gives Lieberman two choices:
- Admit the hollowness of his position and back down to preserve a chairmanship. If this happens, Reid looks strong to the voters back in Nevada and can claim that his profile allows him to do things in DC.
- Join in a filibuster and get stripped of his chairmanship. This is the hidden gem of the big threat. If Lieberman calls, Reid gets the muscle-flexing opportunity to pull the chairmanship in the middle of the term. Hard to demonstrate more raw power than this. Not only does it look cool for the voters back home, it scares the hell out of Nelson and Landrieu and Lincoln and Pryor; all of a sudden they will be quite a bit more circumspect about going against the leadership.
There is no third option. Once Reid goes public, Lieberman does not have the muscle to pull himself out. In fact, as an independent, he is at risk of losing all his committee seats, since there are no seats that are not allocated to one of the two parties. He could join the Republicans and try to get one of their seats, but that means both begging for scarce seats from people trying to cling to what they have and forced retirement in 2012. In a vote of the Democratic caucus as a whole, Lieberman would be easy to push aside, if for no other reason than that Carl Levin would like the Homeland Security gig.
Last summer, not dissuaded by the dismal record of invaders of Russia, the Georgian military decided to take a crack and pushing Russian troops who were supporting Georgian separatists off of Georgian soil. The Russians could scarcely believe their luck.
Joe has gone to battle from equally poor strategic position. Slap him, not only because he has a face to slap but also to keep the rest of the fractious troops in line. It’s rarely this easy, Harry – enjoy it.
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