Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Lieberman's political gamble

I think there's something slightly off in the most recent spate of Joe Lieberman coverage.

Nate Silver points out the myriad reasons why Lieberman coming out against the public option make no sense politically.

He's not winning over any voters. He doesn't owe the insurance lobby the kinds of favors one might think. And he's risking his seniority.

Moreover, substantively this is outrageous. Jonathan Chait points out why saying that healthcare reform hurts the economic recovery is an utterly spurious argument.

So a lot of writers are now in Sigmund Freud mode: Lieberman's doing this to get attention. He's doing this to lash out at the Democratic party. He's doing this to fit with his "holier than thou" persona (which made him so unbearable) and that he's convinced himself that the only Democrat who's being "responsible" fiscally speaking.

All of these psychological explanations have some merit -- but I think it's slightly off, in that there is a political method to this madness. Politically Joe Lieberman has nothing to lose. He has to know at this point that his career in politics is more or less over. His best bet is a cabinet position in some sort of future GOP administration. And maybe that's what he's shoring himself up for. Democratic catastrophe = Joe Lieberman's ascent to the hearts of the radical right = Secretary of Defense in the Romney administration.

Do I think this has a realistic chance of happening? Who knows. Lieberman might hurt the final bill quite a bit. He could force Harry Reid to take the public option out of the final bill. But would he go so far as to filibuster if the final bill didn't contain the public option? I find that difficult to believe -- but then nothing Lieberman does could surprise me that much.

But it's not such a stretch to believe that Lieberman is hoping for a Democratic failure for more than just psychological satisfaction. This is his best road to some sort of future in politics.