Published for The Washington Post, September 4, 2012
Sen. Joe Lieberman — just 12 years after taking the stage in Los Angeles as the Democratic vice presidential nominee — was not invited to this year’s Democratic convention. Or the Republican convention. Over the years, Lieberman (I-Conn.) has broken a number of barriers — marching with Martin Luther King Jr., and becoming the first Jew on a presidential ticket. Toward the end of his career, however, this nation’s ideological segregation proved impossible to overcome. Lieberman’s political homelessness is less a statement on his remarkably consistent views than on a party system where moderation has become heresy.
In 2000, Lieberman’s centrism was part of his appeal. He speculates to me that Al Gore chose him because he was “identified with the DLC wing of the party.” (The now-defunct Democratic Leadership Council attempted to project a more centrist image.) Lieberman also thinks his politically “moderate speech on Clinton and Lewinsky” played a role — a strong moral indictment of Clinton’s shabby conduct delivered on the Senate floor.
But there were immediate suspicions among Democrats. “In the time between the announcement and the convention,” he says, “the interest groups of the Democratic Party were uneasy about me. I had positions the teachers’ unions didn’t like on vouchers and tenure laws. . . . I had been in the civil rights movement, but during the 1990s questioned quota programs. . . .