Look at Lieberman's Entire Record

This post first appeared in The Hartford (Conn.) Courant.

I disagree with Joe Lieberman’s position on the Iraq war. I had serious doubts about the October 2002 war resolution. I think the U.S. needs to begin an immediate phased and responsible redeployment of most troops.

But I must admit I had some doubts about my opposition when the statue of that genocidal thug Saddam Hussein was pulled down to the cheers of Iraqis young and old. My heart sang as I watched on television.

I remember even stronger self-doubts when I saw the long lines of courageous Iraqis waiting under the hot sun enduring the danger of bombs and bullets to vote in their first free elections. The memory of those old Iraqi ladies proudly holding purple fingers in the air to show they had voted moves me to this day.

Now, with the wisdom of hindsight, and with the gross mismanagement of the aftermath of those wonderful moments by the Bush administration, I am back to believing that I was right to oppose the war from the beginning.

But that doesn’t make people who supported the war evil — people like Joe Lieberman, who believed at the time and still believe that everything could work out successfully for Iraqi democracy and for the war against terrorism. I hope they end up being right, and I, wrong.

But those who judge Joe Lieberman harshly for being wrong on the Iraq war should remember the indisputable facts about his record over 30 years of public service:

Because of his progressive voting record, Lieberman was endorsed in his 2006 Senate campaign by every major environmental and civil rights organization.

In his more than 18 years in the Senate, Lieberman has voted more than 90 percent of the time with fellow Democrats, and still does.

According to a recently published study by a San Diego professor who evaluated the voting records of all 100 senators on a liberal-conservative scale, Joe Lieberman was among the 12 most liberal senators in the 110th Congress.

As for the war, not too long into the U.S. occupation of Iraq, Sen. Lieberman was repeatedly critical of President Bush’s conduct and mismanagement of the war, and he was one of the earliest Democrats to say he would replace Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

Some Democrats criticize Sen. Lieberman for chastising President Clinton shortly after the president admitted, in grand jury testimony, his relationship with Monica Lewinsky. The fact is, those of us involved in the public defense of President Clinton credit Joe Lieberman’s speech — which also strongly opposed impeachment — as an important bulwark in the successful fight against Republican efforts to convict President Clinton in the Senate. It helped other Democratic senators (and much of the country) to make the crucial distinction between a personal mistake involving private conduct and the president’s public performance and non-abuse of his office.

Some people still criticize Sen. Lieberman’s debate performance against Dick Cheney in October 2000, a few weeks before Election Day. This is ironic for two reasons: First, after the debate, there was near universal praise for Sen. Lieberman’s ability to sharply challenge Mr. Cheney’s ultra-conservative positions while avoiding personal attacks and maintaining civility.

And second, it should be remembered that after the Lieberman-Cheney debate, the Gore-Lieberman ticket closed the gap in the next two weeks. By Election Day, they ended up winning more popular votes in the nation than Bush-Cheney.

Former President Clinton said to President Bush in 2004 on the special occasion of the unveiling of Mr. Clinton’s presidential portrait in the White House: “You can say someone is right or wrong without needing to say they are good or evil.” That best summarizes Sen. Lieberman’s approach — being able to disagree agreeably in a bipartisanship spirit founded on commitment to Democratic progressive principles.