There's been a lot of turmoil today over at Daily Kos about Senator Joe Lieberman, who seems to be infuriating the loony left because of a report in today's New York Times that he's one of the centrists willing to cut a deal with Republicans on Social Security.
But I'm amazed that Lieberman is drawing all the fire here, while other far more conservative Democrats are being virtually ignored by the blogosphere. Maybe I've got a different perspective because, instead of reading just the New York Times report, I saw yesterday's Washington Post, which also ran a piece on centrist Democrats looking to deal with Republicans to pass Social Security reform legislation. In yesterday's Post, Lieberman's name wasn't even mentioned in the mix.
They named Senators Ben Nelson, of Nebraska; Max Baucus, of Montana; and Mary Landrieu, of Louisiana as moderates looking to work across the aisle. Even then, it's by no means a done deal. This is all speculation. Republicans are looking for any bi-partisan cover for Social Security reform so they don't get their balls cut off by angry constituents when they get home from Congress. To say that Social Security reform is not going well for them is a definite understatement.
That's why I'm surprised that, in the blogosphere, Nelson, Baucus and Landrieu are flying under the radar while so-called Democratic activists are reading the riot act to old Joe. And they are practically accusing Lieberman of being a Republican wolf in sheep's clothing. But, I wish they'd define Democrat for me?
You see, I ran a quick check of all of these senators' AFL-CIO COPE ratings. That's the survey of how often they vote right on union issues. And unions define their issues pretty broadly, not just bread and butter issues for their own members. A high COPE rating is a pretty good indication of how liberal a politician is overall. Here are the numbers for the last year available, 2003:
2003 Rating Lifetime Rating
Ben Nelson, of Nebraska: 62% 69%
Max Baucus, of Montana 62% 74%
Mary Landrieu 77% 74%
Joseph Lieberaman 100% 84%
As you can see, Lieberman has a pretty good COPE rating. To put it in perspective, lots of conservative Republicans rank about 18% or less. So none of these moderates are actuallly doing that shabbily, at least, as far as the AFL-CIO is concerned. But Lieberman's COPE rating is certainly highest of these so-called moderate Democrats. And they're not catching any flack or being called turn coats. Furthermore, Lieberman was one of the 42 Democratic senators who signed a letter opposing Social Security privatization. He has said, every time asked, that he opposes the President's plan to privatize Social Security accounts. So what gives here?
I think Joe is their scapegoat because they actually don't like his stand on Iraq and the Middle East. I don't either. But this is about Social Security. And I think we need to keep the pressure on any and all the moderates that are expressing interest in compromising with Republicans not furthering other agendas.
As far as some Social Security reform, there are funding problems that will need fixing. Even Barbara Boxer admitted this on television this Sunday. However, like most of the Democrats, she won't even discuss any reform until the Republicans get privatization off the table.
Most Democrats agree that there is a funding problem. But they vehemently deny there's a crisis. There isn't, by the way. They all believe that some modest reforms could fix the system. Lieberman may be more likely than a lot of them to work across the aisle for a forge a deal but he's hardly the sell out that some of the more excitable bloggers and commentators are making him out to be.
That said, I do think they're right to oppose any Democrat, including Lieberman, helping the Republicans out here. Whatever I think of some of their ulterior motives for singling Joe Lieberman out, their main point about not compromising with the Republicans on this issue is impeccibly correct.
Social Security is the Democrats' defining issue. It cuts to the core of who we are. And it's also good strategy to oppose any Republican plan that includes privatization, which both Chuck Hagel's and Lindsey Graham's alternative plans do.
Besides the fact that we shouldn't help them off the hot seat, championing Social Security defines us to all those voters who in 2004 claimed they didn't know what we stood for. If we go wishy washy on this, they'll still wonder why they should vote for us. If we are seen as fighting for their rights and benefits, it gives them a reason to consider coming back to the Democrats.
Also, we shouldn't forget recent history and how the Republicans stuck it to us back in the early nineties, when the Clinton administration tried to get health care reform passed. Not one Republican moderate would cross the aisle to even try to compromise or cut a deal to get that passed. They told their Democratic colleagues that their leadership had warned them off this one. Rather than work for much needed health care reform, it was the Republican moderates who ensured that the American public would be denied much needed health care relief. And our country is still suffering because of this. Medical costs are soaring, insurance companies and HMOs are still gouging us at excessive rates for premiums and failing to deliver adequate service. But killing a good health care plan was effective politics. It's what swept them into power in the mid-term elections in 1994.
So, there is absolutely no reason for Democrats to come to the Republican rescue now. They are sinking like a stone under the weight of an unpopular and dubious reform. It is to the Democrats' advantage to be seen opposing it and fighting to save Social Security benefits.
The difference, however, between us and them is that in order to make political hay, they held firm to deny Americans much needed health care reform that actually would have benefitted both our economy and ordinary citizens. We, on the other hand, should hold firm not only because it's smart political strategy, but because it would be saving one of the most successful social programs the world has ever known. This is a program that has saved senior citizens from poverty and brought the assurance of a decent standard of living to all who retire. Folks, we are on the side of angels here. The last thing we need is for the public to see any of us trying to cut a deal with devil on Social Security reform.