Wednesday, November 19, 2008

November 19, 2008

     Ted Stevens is leaving the Senate.  Joe Lieberman is staying.  Different men, different lives.
     Stevens served in the Senate for forty years, longer than any other Republican.  He was an Alaska institution, mostly because he got so many goodies for his state.  He lost his election this time, mainly, I suppose, because just before the vote he was convicted on felony charges of lying on federal forms about gifts and home renovations he'd received.
     He routinely brought home billions in earmarks--9 billion in 2006 alone, according to one estimate.  But the felony conviction hurt, and he's out now--the close election called just this week, on his 85th birthday.  Well, forty years is a long time to keep one job.  I think Stevens had come to think the Senate was his, that the regular rules didn't apply to him.  Richard Nixon famously said once that "if the president does it, it's not illegal."  Watergate proved him wrong.  I suspect--I surely don't know--that Stevens had come to think of his power in the Senate in much the same way.
      While Republicans were debating what to do with Stevens--in the end they did nothing, the voters decided the election-- Senate Democrats were deciding what to do about Joe Lieberman.  He's an independent--one of two in the Senate--who caucuses with the Democrats--that is, votes with them on organizing the place--and so he's chairman of an important committee.
     Lieberman's offense was that he campaigned for John McCain in the election, not Barack Obama.  But the Democrats decided to do nothing.  I think--I surely, again, don't know--that Lieberman's personality had a lot to do with that.  He's a nice guy, fun to talk to, somebody you'd like to have lunch with, quite a different mix from the chillier Stevens.   Personality matters in politics, in how you appeal to the voters and, in a club like the Senate, what your fellow members think of you. 

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