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Why Did Lieberman Change?

[Guest post by Isaac Chotiner]

The New York Times' analysis of Joe Lieberman's career includes this comment from John Droney, a Connecticut Democrat described as a "confidante" of the senator:

“After [the 2006 primary] happens, Joe’s very upset,” Mr. Droney said. “He says: ‘Wait a minute, I got out of Yale Law School, I was one of the youngest state senators, I was majority leader, I ran for Congress, I was the first activist attorney general, I was elected to the United States Senate in a very difficult election against Lowell Weicker, I served my country well, I ran for vice president and actually was elected by the popular vote and, now, because these people don’t like my foreign-policy position, they’re supposed to ignore 30 years? No way!’ And he resented it, and it’s been reflected ever since.”

It never ceases to amaze me that people think these sorts of explanations for behavior are exculpatory. (Since Droney has just finished lamenting the decline of centrism and the lack of a home for "Average Joe Democrats," it seems safe to assume that he meant the comment approvingly). If we take Droney at his word, Lieberman altered his vote on a whole range of issues (like tax cuts for the wealthy and a public option) not because he had a legitimate change of heart, but because that same heart was full of spite. If an opponent of Lieberman said as much, he or she would be accused of "looking for the lowest possible motive." And yet here is a Lieberman pal offering up the same excuse under the strange impression that it makes his friend look something other than vain and selfish.