Joe Lieberman's ultimate act of betrayal

If there's one thing I've realized in my time covering the United States Senate it's that general cynicism with the landscape inside the Beltway can mask the tangible differences between the major political parties and the dissimilar ways those parties affect the lives of the American people. When viewed through the real prism of each vote and floor debate and every piece of arcane maneuvering done by the majority and minority leadership, it's easy to see that there is a distinct difference between Republicans and Democrats and the cost of being the minority party can be quite heavy indeed.

How many votes would have occurred differently -- or not at all -- in the current, 109th Congress if Democrats controlled the Senate? The handling of immigration, the minimum wage, heating assistance for the elderly and disabled, Veterans benefits, tax policy and the sorry spectacle of votes on non-issues like gay marriage and flag burning would have turned out quite differently. To be sure, the composition of the Supreme Court and myriad lower-court appointments would now be on a vastly different course for the next two decades.

And yet there was Senator Joe Lieberman (D-CT) on Monday announcing on the steps of the state capitol in Hartford that he would attempt to run for reelection as a "petitioning Democrat" if he loses to challenger Ned Lamont in Connecticut's August 8 Senatorial primary. No matter what Lieberman calls himself, he would be listed on the November ballot as an Independent, throwing a race that Democrats should be able to easily count in their column into total chaos for the very party he claims to love.

With Democrats already a 55-44 minority in the Senate -- outgoing Vermont Senator Jim Jeffords is a registered Independent -- this should be the last thing the Democratic party needs to face in 2006 and it is a sure sign of the contempt that Lieberman seems to now have for both his party and Connecticut voters.

Lieberman's contingency plan will force him to immediately begin collecting 7,500 voter signatures to get a place on the ballot as an independent, because the due date for those petitions is August 9, one day after the primary he's suddenly lost confidence in winning.

"I'm essentially taking out an insurance policy," Lieberman said on Monday. "I'm opening up an option that will guarantee me that I will be able to make my case to all the voters in Connecticut in November."

In an act of pure political cowardice, Lieberman claims his main concern is that the isolated early-August primary will attract little attention and that lack of voter turnout won't give him the fair consideration he deserves.

"While I believe that I will win the Aug. 8 primary, I know there are no guarantees in elections," Lieberman said. "No one really knows how many Democrats will come out to vote on what may be a hot day in August."

That may be the most gutless thing that's ever come out of an incumbent Senator's mouth.

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