If You Could Change One Thing, Al Gore
Based only on a strong hunch, I'm willing to bet that if Al Gore could change one decision in his public life, it would be that, as the 2000 Democratic presidential nominee, he would have asked then-U.S. Sen. Bob Graham of Florida — not Joe Lieberman of Connecticut — to be his vice presidential running-mate.
Think about it: Gore lost the White House because, by the "official" count, he lost Florida by 537 votes out of nearly 6 million cast. Graham, who never lost a Florida election and was twice elected the state's governor and three times U.S. senator (and who had the sense and strength in 2002 to oppose the U.S. going to war against Iraq), would undoubtedly have guaranteed Gore's winning the Sunshine State's 25 electoral votes and the White House. A Gore-Graham 2000 ticket would have meant, simply, that there would never have been either a President George W. Bush or a Vice President Dick Cheney.
But Gore chose Lieberman in 2000, in large part because on Sept. 3, 1998, Lieberman had become the first Democratic senator to publicly chastise President Bill Clinton for Clinton's "sordid' and "immoral" misconduct with Monica Lewinsky. As Clinton's White House press secretary, Joe Lockhart, explained to a resistant Clinton on the day Gore picked Lieberman, "I think this is saying 'screw you' to Bill Clinton."
In 2004, as his party's most recent VP nominee, Lieberman was treated as a serious presidential candidate. That January in New Hampshire, I followed around Sen. Chris Dodd, who had put his own White House ambitions on hold to back his Connecticut colleague, as he campaigned long and hard in union meetings and social clubs in support of Lieberman, who ended up in fifth place with just 9 percent of the vote.
So it was a little surprising in 2007 when Dodd did launch his own long-shot presidential campaign that Lieberman did not even wait until the Iowa caucuses before breaking party ranks to endorse Republican John McCain.
In defense of Lieberman's scorning of Dodd, it was argued that Dodd — who had energetically backed Lieberman against a strong anti-Iraq war opponent in the 2006 Connecticut Senate primary — did endorse the primary winner, Ned Lamont, in the fall election.
Another Lieberman backer was the first-term Illinois senator who was recruited by Lieberman to be principal speaker at the pre-primary Democratic state dinner.
Joe Lieberman in 2008 was no sunshine soldier in the McCain army. He endorsed Sarah Palin, addressed the GOP convention and campaigned across the continent with high-minded words such as: "The fact that the spokesperson for Hamas would say they would welcome the election of Sen. Obama really raises the question why. And it suggests the difference between these two candidates." Just a little guilt by association.
In 1964, John Bell Williams, then an 18-term Democratic House member from Mississippi, deserted his party and endorsed Republican Barry Goldwater for president. After that election, the House Democratic caucus stripped Williams of his seniority.
But after the 2008 election, the "Can't We All Get Along?" spirit of Rodney King seized President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. For the very same act for which Williams had been punished with the loss of his considerable seniority 44 years earlier, Joe Lieberman was "rewarded," over the opposition of Sens. Pat Leahy of Vermont and Tom Harkin of Iowa, with the chairmanship of the Senate Homeland Security Committee. Boy, won't that teach a tough lesson to anyone considering betraying his party?
To watch Senate Democrats and the White House fall over backward to accommodate the mood swings of Joe Lieberman on health care reform is to understand why MSNBC's Joe Scarborough asked Vice President Joe Biden if Obama is liked, but not feared, in the Congress. Biden insisted those who don't fear Obama "are underestimating the steel in this guy's spine."
If you doubt it, just ask Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman.
To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.
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