Mr. Lieberman's Strength

Sunday, July 30, 2006

IN HIS BATTLE to win Democratic renomination to the U.S. Senate, Joseph I. Lieberman seems to be getting blamed in Connecticut for something that in Washington is an asset -- and ought to be understood as such by Democratic voters back home.

No, we're not talking about his support for the war in Iraq. It's true that we regard his steadfastness under pressure on foreign policy questions as an admirable trait, and it seems to us that even those who disagree with him should find something to admire in his fealty to principles, even when he knows there's a political cost. That's pretty rare in either party these days. But we are not among those who criticize the antiwar challenge as illegitimate. Ned Lamont, Mr. Lieberman's neophyte primary opponent, is entitled to run an antiwar campaign and even to pour last-minute millions from his personal fortune into the race. And voters who believe that Mr. Lieberman is wrong on the war and that the war is the paramount issue are entitled to vote for his opponent in the Aug. 8 primary. That's democracy.

But it seems that Mr. Lieberman is also being pummeled for his ability to work with Republicans and get things done in Washington -- also rare traits -- and that's a criticism that strikes us as shortsighted even from a partisan Democratic point of view. Throughout his Senate career, Mr. Lieberman has been faithful to the fundamental values that most Democrats associate with their party: care for the environment; dedication to a progressive tax code and other ways to help the poor and middle classes; and support for Israel and other democracies around the world. But he's managed to hold on to those values while also working with Republicans to move legislation forward: with Susan Collins (R-Maine), for example, on homeland security; or with John McCain (R-Ariz.) on climate change.

This is a talent and temperament that is helpful to the Democrats in the minority but will be needed even more if there's a change in power in one or both houses of Congress or, in 2008, in the White House. Then, more than ever, the Democratic Party, if it hopes to accomplish anything, will need people such as Mr. Lieberman who bring some civility to an increasingly uncivil capital -- who can accept the idea that opponents may disagree in good faith and who can then work to find areas of agreement and assemble working majorities of 60 senators. His ability to do so is a strength, not a weakness, for the party as well as the nation.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company