Saturday, November 21, 2009

Joe's Gig

Joe Lieberman, the Connecticut independent, got himself a very nice committee chairmanship by promising to caucus with the Democrats in the Senate and to vote with the Democrats on everything but "the war." The fact that Mr. Lieberman has broken that promise over and over again, most recently when he threatened to join the Republicans in filibustering the Senate health care reform bill, doesn't appear to disturb Majority Leader Harry Reid and the Democratic leadership a whit. Lieberman still chairs the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

Now Mr. Lieberman has an issue he can run wild with, and he is doing just that. Tim Rutten, a Los Angeles Times columnist, notes with disgust the senator's unerring instinct for opportunism.

Sen. Joe Lieberman insists on pushing ahead with a Senate inquiry into the mass murder at Ft. Hood, despite White House and Pentagon anxieties that the probe could compromise the prosecution of alleged killer Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan.

It's always interesting to see how many friends due process has in times of extreme stress. Given what looks like the security authorities' wretched mishandling of the Hasan case -- the guy appears to have done everything but paste an "Osama bin Laden Rocks" bumper sticker on his car -- there's every reason for the administration and the FBI to want to put off a legislative reckoning for as long as possible. "We want to guarantee everyone a fair trial" is always good cover. But in this case, it has the additional virtue of being true.

For Lieberman's part, the Connecticut independent -- funny how that latter noun seems synonymous with "opportunist" in his case -- has an unerring instinct for plucking the political moment's low-hanging fruit. The chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs told Fox News that he wants to know whether Hasan's signs of "Islamic extremism" were "missed or ignored."

Those of us who have followed this terrible story can answer "yes" -- a conclusion we've reached even without the benefit of subpoena power. But these aren't questions that should be addressed in the politically charged, highly partisan atmosphere of Capitol Hill.

Of course, the concept of a fair trial doesn't matter to Mr. Lieberman. He has already convicted Major Hasan and is ready to construct the gallows. But then, for Joe, it isn't about a fair trial, it's only about Joe: getting Joe face time on the Sunday Morning Talk Shoes, getting Joe's mug plastered all over the front pages of daily newspapers, getting Joe quoted as often as possible. If it messes up a criminal investigation, too bad.

That Joe Lieberman still has a committee chairmanship is a testimonial to the kind of leadership Democrats have in the Senate and what they consider important. And that is both disappointing and scary.

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