Ever since his treacly farewell tour mercifully ended late last year, Joe watchers have been dying of curiosity. What will be the next move for the former senior senator from Connecticut?
After mulling several options, former Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman’s first order of business was to make some money after decades of penury in government jobs. So he joined the Manhattan law firm of Kasowitz Benson Torres & Friedman. Typically, retired pols don’t practice much law when they land these sorts of gigs. So in all likelihood, Lieberman’s job will be that of rainmaker — to build new relationships, steward old ones, attract business to Kasowitz and, most importantly, grow the firm’s profits. So the man who never met a TV camera he didn’t like was content to grind away in anonymity, far from the bloviating cable hosts and seductive Georgetown cocktail parties in the nation’s capital.
But high-profile politicians are attracted to high-profile jobs like moths to a flame. No sooner did Lieberman sign on the dotted line with Kasowitz than his name surfaced in connection with the vacancy at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security created by the resignation of Janet Napolitano to take the presidency of the University of California system.
Lieberman’s selection as DHS secretary would be a curious one. If he were passed over, it wouldn’t be purely for lack of qualifications. With the ruins of 9/11 still smoldering, Lieberman, working with the Bush administration, was instrumental in creating DHS and later chaired the Senate committee that still oversees it. A liberal Democrat in most respects, Lieberman is nonetheless a hawk on national security issues — which is not a bad place to be in a time of world turmoil. Furthermore, it could help him attract the Republican votes needed to end a potential filibuster during a Senate confirmation process.
It’s certainly true that many Obama insiders grimaced when the “independent” Democrat Lieberman endorsed Republican John McCain for president in 2008. But in the last few weeks alone, Lieberman has done much to ingratiate himself with Obama. Shortly after he signed at Kasowitz in June, Lieberman came out in favor of a sweeping and controversial surveillance program by the National Security Agency that collected phone and Internet data in counterterrrorism efforts.
And last week, a prominent home-state newspaper, the Norwich Bulletin, gushed in an editorial, calling the former vice-presidential nominee “an obvious choice” for DHS who has “worked tirelessly” on national security and cyber threats.
But what, at age 71, has Leiberman ever run? A Senate office? The Attorney General’s office in Hartford? At most, he has presided over two or three hundred employees. With more than 240,000 staffers, DHS is the third largest department in the federal government, so it’s pretty clear that Lieberman is short on the managerial chops needed to guide a huge bureaucracy.
Furthermore, the list of qualified candidates reportedly under consideration is impressive. New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, acting DHS deputy secretary Randy Beers, and former Navy Secretary Richard Danzig are just a few of the other prominent names that have been mentioned.
But at this point, you’d have to conclude that Lieberman is a dark-horse candidate. For every conservative who finds his rightward evolution attractive, there are just as many lefties who will never forgive him for his dogged advocacy of Bush’s disastrous Iraq war. And that image of Lieberman planting one on Bush’s cheek — otherwise know in progressive circles as the “Judas Kiss” — might have been the tipping point in his death spiral among liberals, as well as the decision of Greenwich millionaire Ned Lamont to mount a successful challenge to Lieberman in the 2006 Democratic primary.
While it’s an understatement to say I’ve never been a fan of Lieberman’s, I’ve always had held a grudging empathy for his independence. Just like Joe, my hybrid views don’t permit me to have a real home in a major party either. Still, I’d be delighted to see him toil away, scrivener-like, in an obscure Manhattan office. And if he gets the call from Obama, he should reply exactly as Melville’s Bartleby would: “I prefer not to.”