The Political Football: Cynical Collapses and Redemptive Comebacks
Joe Lieberman endorsed John McCain for President almost exactly three years ago, at a time when McCain’s shots at the GOP nomination were widely dismissed as DOA because of his reputation as a “moderate,” and as a “maverick” willing to stand up to his party’s right-wing base. McCain’s popular reputation was that he was a man who was a profound supporter of the military, and who, unlike other Republicans, vehemently opposed attempts to impose inhumane policies on the military. Lieberman, meanwhile, was just a year removed from winning re-election to the Senate by running as an independent candidate to the Right of his party’s nominee. In unrelated news, Mike Vick had just been sentenced to 23 months in federal prison for brutally ensuring the deaths of dozens of dogs, and Brett Favre was on the verge of playing his last game for the Green Bay Packers. Just as McCain would soon abandon any pretense of being a “maverick,’ Favre would soon abandon any pretense of caring about the Green Bay Packers. As Vick walked into federal prison, Lieberman was finding himself more isolated from his own party.
Who would have thought at that moment that just three years later, McCain would be proudly and vehemently leading the opposition to the elimination of an inhumane policy imposed on the military, whilst defying both his wife and daughter to become the George Wallace of the gay rights movement, and also whilst becoming a major opponent of a treaty that the military believes to be vital to our national security? Who would have thought then, when one of the major conservative criticisms of McCain was that his “maverick” reputation was based on McCain’s willingness to turn on conservatives whenever the political tides were against them, that he would not only be doing all of the above, but that he would be doing so on two issues where 2/3 to 3/4 of Americans were on the side of liberals, and where the tide of history was abjectly in liberals’ favor? And who would have thought that all of this would occur in the same week, a month after McCain had won re-election and just a few months after he had successfully turned back a primary challenge from the right?
Meanwhile, who would have thought three years ago that it would be Joe Lieberman who would passionately and consistently lead the way on one of the more significant civil rights questions of our time, whilst his endorsee McCain fought tooth and nail to block those civil rights? Who would have thought that Joe Lieberman would time and again turn out to be the hero of the hour, bringing that fight back to life every time it appeared hopeless? Who would have thought that, when the battle finally appeared won but the monster of DADT came back to life, horror-movie-style, it would be Lieberman’s constant vigilance and apparently genuine concern for a liberal cause that would immediately make sure it was dead once and for all, without any further damage being done, and in a way that will never, ever appear on his voting record (so he won’t even be able to brag about it come primary time)?
I expect Lieberman will still go down to defeat in his 2012 primary, and even despite this, he probably deserves to. But he deserves that history remember what he has done these last several weeks, just as McCain, who will get to keep his seat as long as he wishes, will deserve that history remembers him as the bitter man standing in the way of justice, progress, and a safer world, while, along with his cynical opposition to START, refusing to stand up for the servicemembers he once claimed to love.
In unrelated news, this week Mike Vick is being openly discussed as an MVP candidate who has by all appearances emerged a changed man. As with Lieberman, many will quite understandably never forgive Vick for what he has done in the past; but also as with Lieberman, few fail to see power of what he is doing now. This past Sunday, Vick engineered the most awe-inspiring comeback in the NFL since Frank Reich brought the Buffalo Bills back from 32 down at halftime in a 1994 playoff game, bringing the Eagles back from 21 down with 8 minutes left to win in regulation. What Joe Lieberman did in making sure that DADT repeal was brought back to life was not only infinitely more important, it was also more difficult by orders of magnitude – where Vick had Andy Reid calling the shots, Lieberman had Harry Reid calling the shots; and while Vick was up against a team with Manning the Lesser at QB, an awful rookie punter, and a depleted receiving corps, Lieberman was up against a Republican team filled with crotchety and unbending old men coming off a major victory in which they said “No” approximately 8 million times, and “Yes” approximately zero times.
Brett Favre, meanwhile, has just played the final game of his career – for the hated Packers rival, the Minnesota Vikings – in a season in which he appears to have literally exposed himself as a poor excuse for a husband and a teammate. As with McCain, few in the media will view Favre’s cynical actions these last several months as more than a footnote to his career; but as with McCain, Favre’s cynical actions have largely destroyed his legacy with the people whose opinions matter most.