Bayh on Lieberman: Round and round we go

On the Rachel Maddow show, Evan Bayh says that Lieberman should keep his chairmanship of the Senate Homeland Security/Government Affairs Committee, because the Democrats will need him to pass progressive legislation.

And if he doesn’t keep his chairmanship, then he’ll become a Republican.

And if he becomes a Republican, then he’ll vote like a Republican.

Which of course would show that he is totally unprincipled.

So thus there is no reason to think that he will vote to support progressive legislation.

Something doesn’t add up here.

Yes, I suppose that someone’s values are so malleable that they would completely change their political philosophy depending upon their party label. I actually wouldn’t be surprised if Lieberman did that. But then he hardly seems like someone who would be a good bet to support progressive legislation.

Now, maybe he is so unprincipled that if he stays in the caucus (which I hope) then he will still be a relatively progressive Democrat on domestic things. But we have to balance that against two things:

1) In order to maintain party discipline, you have to be able to credibly threaten consequences. If someone from your party says that your candidate is unpatriotic, and that it is “a good question” as to whether he is a Marxist, and you welcome him back with open arms, that does not provide very good incentives. You don’t have to be Tom Delay about it. If Lieberman had just supported McCain, and said great things about McCain, then I could see it. But this goes too far because it gives your people license to undermine you and play into a right-wing framing.

2) Lieberman has been a lousy Homeland Security/Government Affairs Committee chair. That’s not just because he never investigated the Bush Administration, as Waxman did on the House side. It’s because he never did any of the oversight work to make sure that the Homeland Security Department did its job. Do yourself a favor and read Edward Alden’s superb book on homeland security since 9/11: the Department has now become focused on immigration enforcement at the expense of tracking terrorists. And it has undermined our economy in the process, by making it so difficult for high-skilled foreigners to get visas that we are losing potentially valuable resources and outsourcing jobs in the process. And through it all, Joe Lieberman has done nothing.

Those are very powerful considerations. And they are not addressed at all by Bayh.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.