Lieberman and the Shifting Center

By Alan Stewart Carl | Related entries in Change, Democrats


On “This Week” Joe Lieberman remarked that he didn’t leave the Democrats, the Democrats left him by moving further left. This is substantively accurate as the Democrats since Bill Clinton have definitely moved from interventionalism towards isolationism and from free-trade towards protectionism. There’s little to indicate that Lieberman has changed many of his positions since 2000 but he’s not exactly welcome in the party anymore.

That said, Ross Douthat of The Atlantic makes a solid point about centrists who get “left behind” during times of political change. He says:

[T]he American “center” moves around a lot (and varies wildly on an issue-by-issue basis), and thus a party that moves leftward or rightward on the hot-button issues of the day can sometimes find a new center that nobody realized was there. This tends to leave the inhabitants of the old middle – the Rockefeller Republicans in the ’70s and ’80s, and perhaps the Lieberman Democrats of today – flummoxed and out-of-step, unable to figure out that just because they’ve always considered themselves “centrists” doesn’t mean the American people will always agree with them.

While Lieberman’s independent victory in Connecticut two years ago indicates he’s not outside the mainstream yet, there is definitely far less room for liberal hawks in today’s political center. I’d say a Republican dove would find more room in the middle.

Centrist is a complicated label because the center shifts so often on so many issues. But the principle of centrism is to NOT shift just because the political winds change. Centrism is about making decisions based on facts and real-world situations rather than partisanship and power games. That, I think, is an excellent method of governance and leadership but it makes for piss-poor politics. Sometimes centrists do indeed represent the aggregate positions of the electorate, sometimes they sit well outside the opinions of voters or are only centrists on issues of no great consequence.

This is why I gave up calling myself a centrist awhile back and generally just go with “independent” nowadays. That’s the label Lieberman now uses too but it’s clear he’s still a little miffed at being left behind by the party that nominated him for the vice presidency just eight years ago. He shouldn’t be all that surprised. Sometimes getting left behind is the cost of eschewing partisanship.

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7 Responses to “Lieberman and the Shifting Center”

  1. Avinash_Tyagi Says:

    Nah he’s just upset that most of us realize the scam Bush is running in Iraq and want to leave.

    Unlike him the Dems aren’t ready to buy into the politics of the neocons and theocons

  2. BenG Says:


    I agree with your main point, but being left behind isn’t all that bad in today’s politics. Some of the catch phrases that label one as conservative or liberal may have become irrelevant in todays climate.
    I don’t understand how being an interventionist was a more liberal trait, and I thought the conservatives were once blamed for being too isolationist. I think we all have tendencies towards many idealogical directions depending on your specific circumstances. One thing I can assure you, we’re all done with the politics as usual that pigeon-hole us into the marketing strategy that SELLS US DOWN THE RIVER!!!

    Take the current overhaul of the financial regulatory system just announced today by the Bush Admins. Sounds awful liberal to me! Problem is, it’s a few days too late and a couple of billion dollars too short!! But thanks so much guys for finally figuring out that there’s a problem here. Now I can’t wait for congress to go and screw up doin somethin about it.

  3. TerenceC Says:

    Lieberman is an “I” by necessity not by choice – I have no patience for conservative’s who don’t stay with any of the conservative ideals, won’t admit that they are conservative, and work against a progressive agenda while they maintain they are in favor of it.

    No party left Joe – he is a conservative pro-war Zionist – period. American politics is decidedly anti-war, anti zionist, fiscally conservative, domestically focused, and in dire need of the “adults” regaining power………Joe doesn’t fit into any of those areas any more. He is a very pious man in every way and that is to be respected, and that is the reason Gore asked him to be his VP – because of his piety.

    Bill C and Monica L was the “blow job heard around the world”. It cost Gore the presidency, and cost America and the world at large so much more. That’s Liebermans claim to fame – he was the VP choice because no one else had the cajones to reprimand Clinton on the Senate floor for a fraternity prank.

    There are 23 Republican Senate seats up in 2008 – right now it looks like Dems will take 11 of them (possibly 16), while maintaining and extending their majority……Lieberman is finished and he knows it. By Joe – why don’t you read the memoirs of Henry Wallace – atleast Henry was forward thinking.

  4. Jim S Says:

    No, the Democratic party didn’t leave Lieberman. There is no time in recent history where they wouldn’t have reacted the way they have to the Iraqi disaster. Lieberman supports it unconditionally. He is the one who moved there. He is the one who for the sake of supporting the war in Iraq decided to move away from being an Independent who caucuses with Democrats to a supporter of the Republican candidate for President.

  5. TP Babe Says:

    With all this talk of partisan politics, I’d like to introduce (or perhaps reintroduce) the concept of transpartisan (TP). The basic precept of the transpartisan movement is to look beyond party, for the sake of the community, nation and world. I’m so ready for this idea! And so DONE with partisan bickering and scorch & burn politics. With a transpartisan framework, people offer differing solutions while acknowledging and respecting the goals and intentions of others. Having attended one such gathering last fall with Reuniting America, I was ecstatically surprised at the level of trust that was built within three days of meetings and dialogue. Outcomes from that meeting are ongoing, including work on increasing government transparency. Yes, it’s very optimistic…but then, so am I. :) America’s greatest asset is our optimism.

  6. Nelson Says:

    It works both ways. I felt like a good conservative republican back when that meant smaller government, free trade and lower spending. Then the conservative republicans started spending all kinds of pork, become protectionists and decided to “get tough on immigration.” I feel like they’re about to pull out the hooded robes and burn some crosses when I hear them talk about the issue. I’d rather vote for a Dem. than some bigot who hates Mexicans.

    At least McCain is still sane.

  7. Jim S Says:

    No, no, no, Nelson. The robes and crosses are reserved for the gays.

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