The decision by the Democratic caucus of the United States Senate not to remove Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I.-Conn.) from his chairmanship of the Homeland Security Committee was a welcome sign of reconciliation in the aftermath of the election.
Only eight years ago, Lieberman was the Democrats' candidate for vice president. But fate had something else in store for him and, instead, he stayed in the Senate and wound up being the focus of the anger of the Democrats.
His first offense was to ignore the partisan impulse to attack the Bush administration on the war in Iraq. His principled stand, both on Iraq and the need for increased vigilance in the conflict with Islamist terror elsewhere, made him the focus of left-wing critics in his own party. In 2006, he was defeated for his party's nomination for re-election. Though most of his Senate Democratic colleagues supported his opponent in the general election, he persevered and won in November as an independent.
Though he returned to the Democratic caucus in January 2007 to give his party the one-vote margin it needed to control the Senate, the breach between Lieberman and the left was not healed. And, when the senator decided to openly back his friend, Republican Sen. John McCain, in his bid for the presidency, it seemed he had burned his bridges. He actively campaigned around the country, and specifically in Jewish communities, for McCain. His critical remarks about Barack Obama were particularly resented by the Democrats, as was his speech at the Republican National Convention.
After the dust settled on Nov. 4, many in the Democratic Party assumed that the time had come to punish Lieberman for his apostasy. With the Democrats increasing their majority in the Senate, the rationale for tolerating him had apparently been removed. Left-wingers in the blogosphere were calling for his expulsion from the party — if not for his blood.
But Obama, now president-elect, intervened in the Senate Democrats' deliberations and, in private remarks that were strategically leaked to the press, urged that Lieberman be kept in the party. The result was a lopsided vote by Senate Democrats to allow the man from Connecticut to keep the important post as chairman of the Homeland Security Committee.
Lieberman allowed in his remarks after the vote that, though he did not regret his support for the war or McCain, he was sorry for some remarks that he made in the heat of the election. That is an apology that many people on both sides of the aisle could well make.
This outcome is good for the Democrats but, more importantly, for the country.
In the past, it was understood that both of our major political parties were "big tents" of disparate elements. That is no longer the case, and, as we have learned in recent elections, partisanship that is driven by such "true believers" on the left and the right is one that works not so much to defeat its opponents as to demonize them.
One of Obama's key themes during the election was to speak about rising above pure partisanship. The Lieberman decision shows that, at least in this instance, he meant what he said. That's important, not just for the sake of civility, but because there are vital issues that Washington must address, which are far more important than the political games between Democrats and Republicans.
Among the loudest voices calling for Lieberman's ouster at Homeland Security were groups purporting to represent Arab-Americans, who were critical of the committee's report on domestic supporters of terror abroad. Though there are some who would interpret the election as a mandate for forgetting about the threat from Islamism, it is vital that Lieberman remain a powerful voice for vigilance. It is well for everyone to remember that, on that important issue, as well as many others, what we need are not Democrats or Republicans, but Americans.