Joe Lieberman’s long journey to the RNC

Sen. Joe Lieberman addressing the Republican National Convention.

Sen. Joe Lieberman addressing the Republican National Convention (Photo/Tom LeGro, Flickr).

It’s been a long road to Minnesota for Joe Lieberman.

Eight years ago he was the No. 2 on Al Gore’s ticket against President George Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. At the time, he stood before the Democratic National Convention (DNC) and made a rousing acceptance speech that promoted the progressive agenda: better health care, campaign finance reform, a stronger public education system. He invoked the memory of Jack Kennedy while energizing Democrats to stand up and support their party, his party.

He and Gore lost the election. Then Sept. 11th happened. The Iraq war began. America began to fracture. As the war extended and the emotional and financial costs increased, Democrats — who supported the effort early — began changing their stance.

Most of them anyway.

Always a man of conviction, Lieberman continued fighting for the Iraq war even at the cost of losing his own party. He became known as Turncoat Joe, a traitor. His popularity in Washington, D.C., and at home faded. In 2006, he lost a Democratic primary bid in Connecticut for his reelection to a once untouchable Senate seat. Not to be deterred, he turned independent and won the election.

Lieberman hasn’t strayed far from the Democratic Party in recent years even if no longer a part of it. He still caucuses with the party and he touts a primarily liberal voting record siding with Barack Obama more than McCain. He chairs the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and maintains close relationships with Dems on the Hill. Yet, he isn’t completely accepted among the rank and file and in many ways must feel an outsider now.

As Lieberman stood from the speakers’ podium Tuesday night, the prime-time speaker at the Republican National Convention, it was hard not to think about his long road to Minnesota. How he came to be on that stage, speaking out against a party that hasn’t warmed to his maverick style and against a leader he calls too inexperienced. Not really liked by Democrats and not fully accepted by Republicans, Lieberman himself must have contemplated at least once how he had strayed so far from the acceptance speech he delivered eight years ago at the DNC.

“What after all is a Democrat like me doing at a Republican convention like this?” he said. “Well, I tell you what, I am here to support John McCain because country matters more than party. I am here tonight for a simple reason: John McCain is the best choice to bring our country together and lead America forward.”

Spoken like a true friend.

John McCain trusts Lieberman, even if his party is wary. The two are together on the campaign trail often and Lieberman has become a background fixture in many of McCain’s impromptu press briefings on runways around the world. They help each other’s political persona and, despite voting differently most of the time, have found a way to see eye to eye.

It’s understandable McCain is rumored to have wanted Lieberman for his vice president. Lieberman has the credentials and understands foreign policy matters. He has been through the VP ringer before. It would be seen as a bipartisan effort to bring a new politics to Washington, D.C., and could attract undecided voters.

But, the risk of alienating the party’s base was too great and McCain instead rolled the dice with Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. And thus, it came to be, a rusty Democrat, once a shining star in his party, standing on the stage at the Republican’s biggest party of the year delivering a speech to 20,000 die-hard partisans about the value of bipartisanship and cooperation, and to defend his friend John McCain.

“My Democratic friends know all about John’s record of independence,” Lieberman said reaffirming McCain’s maverick image while reinforcing his own. “That is why there are people spending so much time and so much money trying to convince people John is something else. God only made one John McCain and he is his own man.”

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Jason Kosena

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