It's not surprising that David Brooks would devote a column to praising Joe Lieberman as a paragon of principled moderation. What's surprising is the evidence he summons to make this case:
After Barack Obama won the election, the hammer came down. Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, told Lieberman that some Democrats wanted to strip him of his chairmanship of the homeland security committee. Lieberman, an independent, said if that happened then he might not be able to vote with the Democratic caucus. ...
If Lieberman had not been welcomed back by the Democrats, there might not have been a 60th vote for health care reform, and it would have failed.
There certainly would have been no victory for “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal without Lieberman’s tireless work and hawkish credentials. The Kerry-Lieberman climate bill came closer to passage than any other energy bill. Lieberman also provided crucial support or a swing vote for the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the stimulus bill, the banking bill, the unemployment extension and several other measures.
Wow. Brooks isn't arguing that the decision to let Lieberman chair the Homeland Security Committee let him do things as committee chairman he otherwise couldn't have accomplished. He's arguing that, if Lieberman wasn't allowed the chair the committee, then he would have voted against a series of unrelated legislation out of spite. He would have let what he called the historic injustice of discriminating against gays in the military stand. He would have been indifferent to the dangers of climate change, the economic crisis, the plight of the unemployed, and so on, all because he was upset that he lost some of his power.
I suspect, though I hope otherwise, Brooks may well be right about that. I don't understand how he sees this as indicative of Lieberman's "courageous independence of mind." The picture Brooks paints is that of a power-crazed egomaniac who places his own pride above the (sometimes desperate) needs of tens of millions of people.