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What Kind Of Veep Would Lieberman Have Been?

Yesterday's NYT had an interesting counterfactual article speculating on the potential dysfunctionality of a Gore administration had Gore won in 2000 and Lieberman became veep:

Not only have Mr. Gore and Mr. Lieberman staked out diametrically opposite positions on the Iraq war, Mr. Gore went so far as to endorse one of Mr. Lieberman’s presidential rivals in 2004, Howard Dean, largely because of his opposition to the invasion. Mr. Lieberman is campaigning for the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Senator John McCain of Arizona.

The two men barely speak.

As Mr. Gore steadily migrated leftward from his roots as a hawkish, centrist New Democrat, Mr. Lieberman lurched to the right, so much so that he now makes common cause with Republicans, at least on the war.

My hunch is that Lieberman would be a very different politicain today--one much closer to the Lieberman of eight years ago--had Gore won in 2000. In other words, Lieberman would have been a fine veep. That's because I think much of Lieberman's lurch rightward has been driven less by political convictions than by the bitterness he feels toward Democratic voters over how they treated him after the 2000 defeat.

First, they overwhelmingly rejected him during his 2004 presidential bid. Then they rejected him during his 2006 Senate race. While Lieberman has long been a vocal proponent of the war--and it was this fact that caused Democratic voters to reject him--he didn't really start drifting into wing-nut territory until after those two defeats. Call it a particularly twisted coping mechanism, but I think Lieberman has rationalized these rejections by subscribing to the most ridiculous right-wing caricatures of Democratic voters as being nothing more than surrender monkeys and elitists and Marxists. He's also dug in his feet on Iraq. In other words, he thinks it's them, not him.

But had Gore won in 2000 and had Lieberman set up shop at the Naval Observatory, I think he'd probably be a Democrat in good standing today. And, if Gore had had a successful two terms, I don't think it's inconceivable that Lieberman would currently be running for president on the Democratic ticket as Gore's heir, instead of reprising the Zell Miller role for the GOP. But for a few hanging chads in Florida. . . .

--Jason Zengerle