This morning, I was asked to be a guest on the new WNYC morning show, The Takeaway with John Hockenberry and Adaora Udoji. The subject? Joe Lieberman.
It's funny, I suppose that I've been asked to talk about our junior Senator more often with national media than we've talked about him on Where We Live. An oversight on our part? Perhaps...but I think that in Connecticut, we've all gotten used to Joe.
As I told John and Adaora, ever since 2000, when he was picked to be Al Gore's VP, Joe has shown a remarkable ability to rankle his party. At the time, party officials and everyday Connecticut Democrats worried that he was putting his own political ambitions in front of the party, or the state.
And at the time, Quinnipiac University's poll gave him an 80% approval rating! Yes, 80%, making him the most popular public servant in the state since, I dunno...Nathan Hale.
His switch to nearly full-time work on security issues following 9/11, and his support for the Iraq war led to his loss in the Democratic primary to Ned Lamont in 2006. The anger he stirred up in the liberal blogosphere was only intensified by his decision to run - and win as an Independent in November.
But, obviously, Joe was still a pretty popular guy in the state - especially with the huge unaffiliated voter segment - and that can be traced to the one thing he talked about the most: His independence...his bi-partisanship, or non-partisanship. This centrism was tempered with a desire to continue to caucus with the Democrats - and to mentor and support party stars like Barack Obama. Even as recently as March of 2006, when at the annual Jefferson-Jackson-Bailey Dinner he talked of Obama in glowing terms, saying he was "looking forward to helping him reach the stars."
By last year - that had all changed as Joe became a key member of the McCain for President team, showing up at stump speeches behind McCain even more than sign-toting veterans. The culmination? His speech at the Republican National Convention, which criticized Obama's readiness, and played to the red-state crowd on a "red meat" night in St. Paul.
With state and national Dems wanting a "pound of flesh" for what they saw as treachery, Senate Leader Harry Reid met with Lieberman late last week to talk about his future - both in the caucus, and as chairman of the Homeland Security committee. Over the weekend, Reid waffled a bit, saying Joe can still help the Democrats. And, President-elect Obama seems to see Joe's loyalty as a third-rail issue as he tries to get things off the ground in a bi-partisan way.
But, local media, pundits, and folks on the street all seem to be a little sick of the act. The same Quinnipiac Poll that showed Joe at 80% approval back in 2000 now has him around 45%, a figure matched in a recent UConn/Courant poll.
Maybe this is something we should be talking about more on Where We Live. I'm not sure. Is it venting? Is it constructive?
Or is it just amazing to watch a political career change so drastically in eight short years. Let me know - I'm happy to talk about Joe with Connecticut, and not just the rest of the country...
Photo by Chion Wolf