Today is a momentous day at Combat! blog. We are proud to inaugurate the Rushing Award for Excellence in Speculative Journalism, and we present it to J. Taylor Rushing* for this article on the enormous power that Joe Lieberman might wield if the Republicans win exactly nine seats in the Senate. That scenario would give Democrats “the slimmest possible majority,” bringing their caucus to 50 by only two independents: Bernie Sanders of Vermont and nobody giving a crap, and Lieberman. Fortunately, Lieberman’s loyalty is assured. Sarc mark.
Actually fortunately, this scenario is not likely to happen. It’s predicated on the Republicans winning exactly nine Senate seats in November, and when you multiply the probabilities of their getting that many and their not getting any more, the fraction gets pretty thin. Still, the idea of Lieberman as perpetual swing vote—or worse, Lieberman as extremely valuable free agent choosing a party in January—feels like that one chamber in a game of Russian roulette. Joe Lieberman is not the man to wield power and integrity simultaneously.
There is also some irony in the prospect. The same mechanisms that have made the midterm elections such a horse race eerily parallel the events that led Lieberman to become an independent in the first place. In 2006, liberal activists in Connecticut shocked the incumbent Lieberman in the Democratic primary, nominating the anti-war Ned Lamont instead.
At the time, the notion that an organized plurality of ideologues could unseat a party fixture in a primary seemed farfetched. Implausible, too, was the idea that intra-party extremism could find traction with the larger electorate, as Lieberman declared himself an independent and went on to win another general. Now, of course, those same dynamics are poised to reshape the Senate, as a series of witches, pro wrestling managers, even crazier sons of crazy libertarians and birth certificate-deniers run on the Republican ticket for the world’s greatest deliberative body.
Back in 2008, Lieberman famously declined to caucus with the GOP because, as he put it, a Republican can’t get elected in this country. How soon things change. Given that the senator from Connecticut has twice considered a change in affiliation during the last four years, it seems likely that he would put his loyalty on the market again. Thus would Joe Lierberman become a human symbol of the current Senate: a man who gained power not by adhering to his principles or even being particularly well-liked, but by being the perpetually movable linchpin in a fragile machine.
Fortunately, everything to be said about Joe Lieberman, America’s Most Crucial Senator must be phrased in the conditional. The scenario described in the Hill article is as unlikely as it is unpleasant, and even if it comes to pass it might not differ measurably from the extraordinarily pusillanimous Democratic super-majority we have today. Still, it’s an unpleasant reminder of how far we’ve come, and in what a short time. In 2006, Democrats in Connecticut politely asked Joe Lieberman to leave. Four years later, he’s still here, putting his feet on the coffee table, eying the DVD collection, secure in the knowledge that nobody will call the cops.