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Overthinking Lieberman

Ezra Klein plays my favorite parlor game: What Does Joe Want?

After breaking with the Democratic Party over national security, killing the public option would cement Lieberman's status as a conservative hero. The Republican Party is angry and scared right now, and Lieberman is in the peculiar position of being able to grab them emotionally even as he's not fully aligned with them substantively. In a field that includes loose cannons like Sarah Palin and such dull middleweights like Mitt Romney, Lieberman might be the only Republican with both conservative and independent appeal, at least in theory. Maybe -- just maybe -- he wants to switch parties and see where 2012 takes him? Probably not, of course, but isn't it worth keeping the option open, particularly if it means sticking it to the Democrats at the same time? [Emphasis added.]

I suppose it's possible that deep down in places he doesn't talk about at parties Lieberman dreams of rolling the Joementum Mobile out of the garage and taking it for another spin. But I really think Ezra is giving Lieberman almost too much credit here. I seriously doubt he's positioning himself to become a conservative hero, much less a potential 2012 GOP presidential candidate.

Pretty much everything Lieberman has done since his unsuccessful presidential campaign in 2004--including, now, his threats to kill the public option--has been designed to infuriate Democrats. It's almost as if, having been hurt so badly by their rejection at the polls, he needs them to stay angry at him (rather than just forget about him). Remember, plenty of Democratic Senators continued to support the war in Iraq after it went south; Lieberman was the only one who regularly voiced that support on the op-ed page of the Wall Street Journal in articles that lavished praise on President Bush and chided Democrats for not being sufficiently appreciative of his leadership skills.

When I wrote this piece about Lieberman during his tough 2006 reelection campaign against Ned Lamont, one of Lieberman's friends said something that's stuck in my head:

"It's almost like he goes out of his way sometimes to make a difficult situation more difficult."

Both for the Democrats and for himself.