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The conversation: Why Joe Lieberman's retirement has sparked debate

January 20, 2011 | 12:33 pm

Joe Lieberman

Things are looking up for liberals. Sure, the House GOP passed a resolution to repeal the healthcare law, but that was just a big ol' political show that now gives Dems another chance to sell the law. Otherwise, President Obama's approval ratings are on the climb and Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman is retiring.

"Don't let the delusional liar door hit you in the delusional liar butt on the delusional liar way out," said Keith Olbermann on Wednesday's "Countdown."

The New York Times' Gail Collins concurs: "Obviously, sometimes people with principles have to take an independent stand," she said about the Democrat-turned-independent senator who ran for vice president on Al Gore's ticket and later endorsed John McCain for president. "But Lieberman's career has taught us how important it is to do that with a sense of humility. If you’re continually admiring yourself as you walk away from your group, eventually people are going to feel an irresistible desire to trip you." She concludes her column with a proposed title for a new book: "Everything Bad Is Joe Lieberman's Fault."

"Good riddance," writes Emily Bazelon on Slate. "Why do I loathe, loathe, loathe my 68-year-old four-term senator?" she asks. "After each act of grand or petty betrayal, each time he turns on his former supporters, the Democratic Party and the Obama administration came back begging for more. Throughout the last Congress, he never let anyone forget he was the 60th vote."

Perhaps this cartoon on Truthdig by Mike Luckovich sums up the harsh feelings best.

But still, there are those who'll miss Lieberman. The New Republic's John B. Judis is one of them.  Judis writes:  "He was the 1990s equivalent of the old Cold War liberal. And it was on these positions that he took his stand and broke with many in his own party, and eventually found himself ostracized. I didn't agree with his positions, but they weren't venal or small-minded. […] I am not suggesting that Lieberman was really a good liberal underneath his ornery, neoconservative, pro-McCain veneer, but rather that, unlike many senators, he was able to combine different political convictions into a fairly unique mixture."

You might be surprised to learn that The Times' editorial board took a similar position. Like senators from a bygone era, the board writes, "Lieberman has often served as the Senate's go-to guy on centrist initiatives, helping to break partisan logjams. He led an admirable, years-long struggle with McCain to work out a deal on limiting greenhouse gas emissions, for example, and when Republicans threatened to use the 'nuclear option' to limit Democratic filibusters of judicial nominees in 2005, Lieberman was a key member of the 'Gang of 14' centrist senators that headed off a crisis." Lieberman had low moments, which the board points out; but still, they give the senator credit where they think it’s due, concluding, "[w]e can't help but suspect that as the number of iconoclasts, aisle crossers and centrists diminishes in the Senate, less and less will get done."

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-- Alexandra Le Tellier

Photo: Sen. Joe Lieberman at his news conference Wednesday announcing his plans to retire. Credit: Don Emmert / Getty Images

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