Yeah, I like Joe Lieberman. So?

As readers of this blog know, I’m a big Joe Lieberman fan. I’m big on John McCain, too. And Lindsey Graham. I like people who take principled stands — in favor of fighting terrorism even when it occurs in Iraq, or instituting rational immigration reform even when it means being fair to Mexicans — and stick to those stands, even when the ideological nutjobs in their respective parties are skinning them alive for doing so.

So I had to smile when somebody who works for Edwards — feeling compelled, to my surprise, to respond to my column, which turned out to be a WAY bigger deal than I would have expected — dismissed my obserrvations by saying we endorsed Lieberman in 2004:

Edwards spokesman Eric Schultz suggested the editorial is a farce and noted that columnist Brad Warthen of The State newspaper, based in Columbia, S.C., endorsed Joe Lieberman a day before the Connecticut senator dropped out of the Democratic primary race in 2004.

I smile because I essentially browbeat my colleagues into endorsing Joe, in a three-hour talkathon in which I just plain wore them down, on the very day we had to write our endorsement and put it on the page (John Kerry had not come in until that day, and Howard Dean had requested a second meeting — the one mentioned in the anecdote in my column — so we couldn’t have our discussion until then).

And you know, some of those colleagues drew the same connection as Mr. Schultz — they said the fact that Lieberman was going to get creamed in the S.C. primary had something to do with whether we should endorse him. As I respect my colleagues, I respect Mr. Shultz’s observation. But the two fact had nothing to do with each other in my mind. To me, it didn’t matter whether Joe got a single vote, as long as he was the best candidate in the field. And he was.

Anyway, for your nostalgic pleasure, I hereby copy the column I wrote explaining that editorial decision. I wrote it to exculpate my colleagues as much as anything. I didn’t find endorsing Joe embarrassing after his loss, but I sensed that they did. So I explained how it happened. I do stuff like that. I was doing that this morning — and everybody freaked. I guess that’s because it became a national story and the national folk don’t know me. Anyway, here’s that column:

The State (Columbia, SC)
February 8, 2004 Sunday FINAL EDITION
LENGTH: 972 words

IN THE COUPLE of months leading up to last week’s Democratic presidential primary here, most of the candidates came by our offices for interviews with the editorial board. In chronological order, they were Dick Gephardt, Carol Moseley Braun, Joe Lieberman, John Edwards, Howard Dean and John Kerry.
    The moment John Kerry left – on the Friday afternoon before the primary – we gathered to make a decision on our endorsement, which would run that Sunday. Present were Publisher Ann Caulkins, Associate Editors Warren Bolton, Cindi Scoppe and Nina Brook, Editorial Writer Mike Fitts and yours truly.
    It took us almost three hours. For much of the first hour, no one mentioned any candidate by name. Instead, we spent that time discussing the criteria that we should use in making our decision. The points we set out are worth relating because they are relevant not only to the decision we make in the fall on the presidential race, but in some cases to other endorsements we make.
    Mike Fitts, who has had primary responsibility for tracking this race for us, started us off, and pretty much mentioned all the main parameters. With the caveats that some criteria would militate against others, and that no candidate was likely to be the best on all counts, he said that based on what we have written and said in the past, anyone we endorse for president should:

  • Be someone that we, and a consensus of South Carolinians, would be comfortable with philosophically. We have well-defined positions on most issues; so do the candidates. Intellectual consistency would demand that we look for as close a match as possible.
  • Recognize that national security, while not everything, is certainly the first and foremost responsibility of the job. More particularly, given our position, we wanted someone who would be fully committed to bringing positive change to the parts of the world that most threaten national and collective security.
  • Think for himself rather than adhere to any party’s narrow ideology. We favor people who work across lines and are intellectually diverse.
  • Have relevant experience in elective office, which is particularly valuable in itself. A candidate might be a natural-born leader and have all the vision in the world, but probably would not achieve much in office without having mastered the give-and-take of politics.

    Finally, Mike raised a question: In a primary, to what extent do we take into account whether someone would be the best standard-bearer for his party?
    As we went around the table, Warren gave probably the best answer to that one: "We ought to be thinking about who can be the president of the United States, regardless of party affiliation." Nina and Cindi said much the same, with Cindi adding that everyone should feel free to vote in our state’s open primaries. (This was before we knew about the loyalty oath, which fortunately was dropped at the last minute.)
    Warren wanted to make sure we agreed that no one criterion should be a disqualifier, noting that while elective experience is worth a lot, it’s not everything. "People bring other things to the table," he said.
    To Mike’s list, Nina added that we should also not be afraid to be a conscience for the state, even when we’re a little alone.
    I thought Mike and the others had summed it up fairly well, but added two criteria that have long guided my own thinking:

  • Endorsements should always be about who should win, not who will win. We should endorse the best candidate, even if he or she doesn’t have a chance.
  • Presidential endorsements are a different animal. With most local and state races, readers have few or no other reliable sources of information on the candidates. With the presidential contest, they are inundated. They will usually come to our endorsement with a well-informed opinion of their own. Therefore our endorsement takes on a more symbolic value; readers can use it as a guide to see whether they want to trust our judgment on the candidates and issues they know less about.

    Finally, of course, we got around to discussing the candidates themselves. We quickly narrowed it down to Sens. Edwards, Kerry and Lieberman. That’s when the hard part started.
    Once again, Mike helped define the dilemma before us, logically and mathematically.
    He divided the field of three into three overlapping sets of two, with each pair having advantages over the remaining candidate. That sounds complicated. Here’s what I mean:

  • Sens. Lieberman and Kerry had the distinct advantage on experience.
  • Sens. Kerry and Edwards had more dynamic leadership skills – important in a chief executive.
  • Sens. Lieberman and Edwards were closer to us and South Carolina politically.

    A three-way stalemate.
    Still, to me at least, it seemed clear that Joe Lieberman came out ahead on most of Mike’s criteria – good philosophical fit, sterling national security credentials, by far the one most willing to work across party lines, and a distinguished 30-year record of public service.
    The sticking point in our discussion was over one of my criteria: The one about who should win versus who will win. We all knew Sen. Lieberman had little chance of surviving beyond Tuesday, and there was considerable sentiment for using our endorsement to boost someone with a better shot. That would have taken the form of either affirming Sen. Edwards’ front-runner status or giving a boost to Sen. Kerry.
    In the end, we stood by Joe Lieberman. I’m glad we did.
    I share all of this because, even though our guy is out of the race, the same criteria we used will be applied as we look toward November. And while many readers say they just know who we’ll endorse, they’re ahead of me. Based on the criteria we use, it remains a very open question.

10 thoughts on “Yeah, I like Joe Lieberman. So?

  1. Doug Ross

    >> Be someone that we, and a consensus of
    >> South Carolinians, would be comfortable
    >> with philosophically. We have well-
    >> defined positions on most issues; so do >> the candidates. Intellectual consistency
    >> would demand that we look for as close a
    >> match as possible.
    The fact that only 2% of the voters in the primary were comfortable with Lieberman shows just how out of touch The State’s editorial board is with the residents of South Carolina. You basically ignored that supposed important parameter to get Joe into the final three.
    Al Sharpton got four times as many votes as Joe. Wes Clark got three times as many. Howard Dean — at the height of the media frenzy over one – got twice as many votes.
    300,000 voters were NOT comfortable with Joe, versus 7,000 who were.
    Even I got nearly 4,000 votes in Richland County alone for school board in 2002.

  2. Doug Ross

    Joe Lieberman – the voice of South Carolina – didn’t exactly blow the doors off in 2004. Here’s some vote totals that might counter the notion that he had any business even running for President.
    In Allendale County, Joe got 3 votes. Total. 12 in Jasper County.
    His best showing was 4th place in Oconee County with 186 votes (to Edwards 3000+).
    Hopefully in 2008, The State will try to use its endorsement on a candidate who has a chance (although I’m expecting Joe Biden will probably get the Joe-mentum treatment this time around).

  3. Josey2006

    It took you three tries to figure out Edwards was a phony. Maybe you need to do some homework on “principled” John McCain. Here’s a good start for you:
    “The Lincoln Savings and Loan Investigation: Who Is Involved” –
    If you’re really in an investigative mood you can research McCain’s connections to real estate interests during the development of the Central Arizona Project (CAP), how lucrative it was for folks who purchased land in the pathway of CAP, and their often cozy relationship to McCain, the principal (and maybe not so principled) Senator behind the project.
    Also, there’s quite an archive of YouTubes documenting flip flops on issues (Apparently the one principle which McCain abides by is change).

  4. Brad Warthen

    Actually, Josey, it took me one split-second. The rest was reinforcement of the initial impression. Try doing something that I’m afraid too few people do — read the column.
    It’s interesting to watch this exercise play itself out. Everyone out there in the blogosphere and on 24/7 dumb-down news is pre-programmed to interpret everything in terms of their partisan proclivities or the conventional wisdom of the moment. That means they either force what I’m saying to fit one of the molds of what they expect to read, or they simply fail to take it in. Their vocabulary is derived entirely from the glossaries of spin-cycle melodramas and rigid cant. The idea that someone can come to a conclusion based in no ideology — that a person can react to an experience as an honest observer, describing what he sees without the approved filters of the moment — simply doesn’t even come into play. It’s all about, “What’s the agenda? What’s really going on here?” When what’s going on is simply what I said.
    It’s a sad spectacle.

  5. weldon VII

    Not spin, truth.
    Who he is, not what he says, not the part he plays.
    Not the idea, the person.
    Congrats again, Brad. You’ve hit for the spin-cycle.

  6. Tom_Robinson

    Brad, it’s not that we don’t believe that someone can come to a conclusion that is not based in ideology, it’s that many of us are having trouble understanding how you can have drawn the conclusions you say you drew based on the observations you made. You have told us what you observed, and you have told us your conclusion, but it is difficult to construct a logical chain from your observations to your conclusions.
    Now, not everyone is forthright about his own motivations. Sometimes, in fact, people conceal their true motivations even from themselves. So you must forgive us if we are drawn to speculate on sources of your conclusion that are more comprehensible to us than the ones you laid out. We are obliged to consider your actions, not merely your description of your actions, and to consider them in the light of our experience of the world.
    It is pleasing to receive attention and accolades. It is pleasing to think of oneself as important, to receive praise from unexpected quarters. It is pleasing to gain a sense of personal vindication. There’s no shame in admitting that.

  7. bud

    To me, it didn’t matter whether Joe got a single vote, as long as he was the best candidate in the field.
    In your defense of your endorsement of Ravanel for treasurer you indicated the voters really only had two choices. An endorsemne of a third party candidate, or even a non-endorsement, was somehow irrational because only one of two candidates would win. Now you’re saying it’s ok to endorse someone who has no chance of winning. Which is it?

  8. bill

    It ain’t that sad,Brad.The USC football season lasts all year long.That’s the saddest spectacle in town.

  9. Karen McLeod

    Unfortunately, my ethical and moral stance is so far from the majority of South Carolinians (as far as I can tell), that for me to ‘endorse’ anyone is probably the dementor’s kiss to that person’s political career. Should I therefore only look at those who can win in SC? This problem seems to surface frequently. Sometimes the only person who seems to have any honor is one who is from a splinter party, and has neither the cash on hand, nor the wide appeal to win. This time, once again we have a variety of choices in each party, ranging from party work-horses, to comparatively new faces. Some have a history that leads me to believe that they are basically honorable people (no one is perfect–not even me); some I neither trust, nor respect. Some seem to be choosing from a wide but definitely predictable choices; others seem to be willing to venture out into new territory. I would just like to see, this time, 2 people running, both of whom I respect. I don’t have to agree with either one of them on all points, but let them be people I can respect although I disagree with them.

  10. postking1

    This blog article is in response to unfair attacks that are being leveled by liberal activist groups and the liberal media against Senator Joseph Lieberman. I am asking all fair-minded Americans to respond in support of Senator Lieberman by posting a comment, video, or other form of support. Please leave your name and town.

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