Amid the celebration in the moments after President Barack Obama signed the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010 this week, Mr. Obama shook the hands of issue’s most prominent supporters. U.S. Senator Susan Collins from Maine was there for a Presidential hug, as was Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, outgoing Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Connecticut’s own Senator Joe Lieberman. A review of the footage from the event reveals a slight but noticeable change in the President’s countenance as he embraced Mr. Lieberman, reflecting perhaps the mixed emotions that the two men shared.
During the 2008 election cycle, Mr. Lieberman memorably chose to play Porthos in Republican Presidential nominee John McCain’s merry band of Senatorial musketeers instead of toeing the line for his fellow Democrat, Mr. Obama. But in the wake of those elections it was Obama who rescued Lieberman from the political retribution sought by many Democrats in Washington.
Since then, the relationship between Lieberman and Obama has appeared to be more tenuous. His evolving positions on health care reform threatened to torpedo the President’s signature agenda item on more than one occasion and Lieberman’s advocacy on foreign policy issues in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Israel has been a recurring thorn for Obama.
But it was Lieberman above all who emerged as a champion first and then shepherd of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell legislation, coaxing support from his colleagues over the objection of, among others, Senator John McCain, who has emerged as the Senate’s crustiest curmudgeon in the wake of his 2010 primary challenge. Lieberman was liberated by his primary while McCain seems confined by his experience.
Ultimately Lieberman delivered DADT safely to the President’s desk and himself into that emotional moment with the President.
What it all means for Mr. Lieberman’s future remains to be seen. The reviews from Washington were uniformly glowing while the Connecticut-based evaluations were far less enthusiastic, with many liberal commentators holding fast to their “No How, No Way” view on the long-serving Lieberman.
A Democratic coterie is already lining up to challenge him in 2012. US Reps. Joe Courtney and Chris Murphy are both publicly considering bids, while former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz and perhaps others are said to be mulling their options.
For Republicans, a fractured Democratic Party has always been a recipe for Republican success in Connecticut. 2010 Senate nominee Linda McMahon’s continued interest in the Senate may well seek to capitalize on such a division to propel her to victory in 2012.
But Lieberman has already survived one spurning and has to be less fearful of a second. Plus, with a feather like DADT in his cap, the liberal daggers may be less sharp than some people would prefer. The biggest question yet to answer may be whether Lieberman’s leadership on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is a kickoff for 2012 or a capstone on a remarkable Senate career. Lieberman’s fundraising numbers over the next few months will tell the tale of what is in store.