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Lieberman's Partisanship Paradox

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I used to like Joe Lieberman. Yes, he was sanctimonious. But he could talk about issues Democrats tended to stay away from -- culture, morality, religion in the public square -- and occasionally say something smart. He's been out on front on global warming and other issues. That's why his migration into the neoconservative, Republican camp, which has become so unhinged from reality over Iraq and terrorism, has been painful to watch. Lieberman's journey is also highly idiosyncratic. Iraq made a lot of smart people think twice about foreign misadventures. I'll bet even Bill Kristol, in his most private moments, wavered a little. But, seemingly alone among prominent Democrats, it made Lieberman a true believer.

So Lieberman's convention speech was a peculiar exercise. It was a partisan speech -- he was talking to the Republican National Convention! -- cloaked in bipartisan rhetoric. But not the standard editorialist's let's all work-together-and-meet-in-the-middle approach. Lieberman has taken the exact opposite tack for more than a year.

Rather, Lieberman identifies himself as the one, and only, true tribune of bipartisanship. And of course, for him, as with Bush and McCain, there is no bipartisan compromise possible on the central issue of our time, terrorism. In Lieberman's view, then -- at least where it counts most -- bipartisanship equals Lieberman, which equals McCain, which equals Bush. Whatever the merits of McCain's foreign policy, bipartisan spirit is not among them.

All politicians are egotists, but Lieberman seems to have retreated into a kind of narcissistic cocoon. It's sad. It's also hard to see how his appeal to undecided Democrats and independents -- based on the idea that it's the Democratic Party that has failed to address the challenges facing the nation -- will square with their experience of the recent years of Republican rule.

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