Joe Lieberman Concedes the Obvious

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Senator Joe Lieberman, who is up for re-election next year, has announced he won’t seek another term. On the one hand it’s a surprise: The more Lieberman became a bete noire for liberals with his post-9/11 rightward lurch on national security, the more he seemed to relish fighting back without apology. But ultimately the numbers augured an inescapably grim fate: Lieberman’s approval rating in Connecticut bottomed out at just 31 percent last fall. The Democratic Party, from which he bolted when challenged from the left by Ned Lamont in 2006, didn’t want him back. (Doubly so after Lieberman endorsed John McCain in 2008.)  But Lieberman was only able to win re-election as an independent because because Republicans failed to run a serious candidate. With wrestling mogul Linda McMahon, who lost her Senate bid against Richard Blumenthal last fall, seemingly ready to dump tens of millions more into another race, that option didn’t seem open for a repeat. As one source tells the Times: “I don’t think he wanted to go out feet first.”

Liberals will be glad to see Lieberman go, not least because his seat may now become easier to defend than if he had insisted on fighting to the bitter end. Although emotions on the left are sure to be somewhat more mixed since last month, when Lieberman championed the end of the military’s don’t ask don’t tell policy, winning redemption in the eyes of some of his fiercest liberal critics. Lieberman was also one of the Senate’s more earnest believers in acting to slow climate change. But those things weren’t enough to rescue his standing with the Democratic and independent voters who appeared to feel that they no longer recognized in him the man they sent to Washington more than 20 years ago. Apparently they had already decided–to quote a Lieberman slogan from his winning 1988 Senate campaign–that “it’s time for someone new.”