A lot of people are upset that the Democrats didn’t go all vindictive on Joe Lieberman and boot him from his committee chairmanship. I have no love for Lieberman and detest his choice to stump for the Republicans this year. But I think I understand what Barack Obama was up to in pushing the Senate Democrats to bury the hatchet.
Obama spent most of the marathon campaign that just ended telling people that he wanted to move beyond the old partisan politics. Having won the election, he now faces a set of problems of a magnitude we haven’t faced since the 1930s. Just as Obama was Mr. Consistency on the campaign trail, sticking to the same themes and policies across the states and months, so, I think, he wants to demonstrate consistency from the campaign through the transition into government. “Remember what I said on the trail?” he’s in effect saying. “I meant it. And I’m going to act on it.”
A president with that sort of carry-through would be something extraordinary — and unfamiliar. I understand why Obama partisans might discount the promise of transcending partisanship as being so much blather. Our last president made campaign noises about “being a uniter, not a divider” and proceeded to pursue an intensely divisive agenda with the thinnest of mandates.
After such an experience, we can be forgiven for collectively discounting all talk of moving beyond the old battles. But I think Obama meant it, and means it, and means to see what happens when a president actually tries to deliver on that promise. While removing Joe Lieberman from his post might satisfy many an activist’s sense of justice, it won’t move us any closer to fixing the economy, reforming healthcare, or reversing the Bush Administration’s destruction of our functioning government. Whereas holding on to Lieberman’s vote in the Senate might.
In other words, settling scores is, and ought to be, a lower priority than delivering on a big policy agenda. If Obama can achieve that — and anyone who defeated Hillary Clinton in the primaries and won the White House as a black candidate knows something about achieving tough goals — then the scores will have a way of settling themselves.