Joe Lieberman's been a punching bag in liberal quarters for quite some time now, and understandably so: he has not only endorsed, but vigorously campaigned for, John McCain. Not long ago, my colleague Jon Chait wrote a TRB entitled, "The Zell Millerization of Joe Lieberman." I think the speech he just delivered proves that comparison facile.
To refresh our memories, here are a few of the outrageous things that Miller said about John Kerry four years ago:
And no pair has been more wrong, more loudly, more often than the two Senators from Massachusetts, Ted Kennedy and John Kerry.
Together, Kennedy and Kerry have opposed the very weapons system that won the Cold War and that are now winning the war on terror.
Listing all the weapon systems that Senator Kerry tried his best to shut down sounds like an auctioneer selling off our national security.
Miller went onto list all those weapons programs Kerry opposed, ending memorably with, “This is the man who wants to be the commander in chief of our U.S. Armed Forces? U.S. forces armed with what? Spit balls?”
It didn’t end with this elementary school-level taunt. There was this sarcastic crack:
Kerry would let Paris decide when America needs defending. I want Bush to decide.
This ridiculous line followed:
John Kerry, who says he doesn't like outsourcing, wants to outsource our national security. That's the most dangerous outsourcing of all. This politician wants to be leader of the free world. Free for how long?
and then this:
George W. Bush wants to grab terrorists by the throat and not let them go to get a better grip.
From John Kerry, they get a "yes/no/maybe" bowl of mush that can only encourage our enemies and confuse our friends.
And don't forget that at the end of this tirade, Miller told Chris Matthews, "Get out of my face!" and threatened him to a duel.
Lieberman's address was a pro-McCain speech, not an anti-Obama one. Not only did Lieberman hardly dwell on Obama, but what he did say about the Democratic nominee was perfectly legitimate criticism, hardly the scornful and sarcastic insults that Miller launched at his Senate colleague. And Lieberman may be the only person in history to get the attendees at a Republican National Convention to applaud Bill Clinton.
There's also the matter of temperament. Throughout his speech and thereafter, Miller was red-in-the-face, spittin' mad. Tonight, Lieberman was his usual, menschy self.
There are many things one can criticize about Joe Lieberman. You can call him sanctimonious, self-righteous, or fault him for placing so much emphasis on foreign policy to the point that he's campaigning for the rival party's nominee. But you cannot, at least not seriously, compare him to Zell Miller.