But a review of the Connecticut senator's voting record since his return to Congress as a self-styled independent suggests another label: Dependable Democrat*.So Lieberman is more reliably Democratic than a couple of his more centrist colleagues, Ben Nelson (D-NE) and Evan Bayh (D-IN), but neither of those men receives the tongue lashings and flamings that Lieberan receives regularly.
The asterisk, of course, refers to Iraq. Lieberman has fought Democrats with the pluck of a third-grader in a dodge-ball tournament, advancing the view of him as a rogue ready to bolt the Democrats, where he caucuses, for the Republicans. And in a Politico interview last week, he once again refused to rule out the possibility.
Yet, his newfound freedom hasn't reshaped his voting patterns. He broke with the majority of Democratic senators on only five of 52 votes he's cast in the last two months.
The different perceptions underscore how indelible Iraq has become as the base line for determining party loyalty. Lieberman emerged as a decisive vote last month in the minimum-wage debate -- twice giving Democrats a one-vote edge in defeating Republican amendments -- but that party fidelity on domestic issues gets lost in his disobedience on Iraq, where he twice sided with the GOP to block a rebuke of the president.Not to dismiss the importance of Iraq policy, but why is it that this one issue has become the defining point for being "Democratic Enough." Lieberman could probably have voted against minimum wage, against lobbying reform, and against everything else the Democrats have put forward in the Senate and not been as abused. Lieberman could even become ardently pro-life and receive less grief.
"There are Democrats in recent years that have been quick to criticize Republicans who apply a litmus test: If you are not with us 100 percent, you are not with us," Lieberman said. "That is what I feel has happened too much within the Democratic Party."
Lieberman "doesn't digress from the party that much," acknowledged Jane Hamsher, the Connecticut-based author of firedoglake.com who worked for Lieberman's 2006 opponent, Democrat Ned Lamont. But, she said, it is Iraq that matters.
Iraq is important and proves to be incredibly divisive in our nation, but as a litmus test, it is a poor issue. Unlike, say abortion, there are not really two clear sides, but the Democrats have made clear that you either support an end to the war or your are the enemy. Polite disagreements on one policy now creates the hatred and vitriol of sectarian warfare. Will the Senate become such an ideological battleground that any deviation is grounds for attack and dismissal? The current stance of the Democratic party with regard to its Senators on Iraq makes the Charles Sumner caning seem positively civil.