- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The decision to allow Sen. Joe Lieberman to retain a key Senate chairmanship has become the first test of whether President-elect Barack Obama’s message of unity can work as a governing philosophy or whether it will be relegated to the dustbin of campaign slogans.

Outrage has exploded among liberal bloggers and grassroots online organizers since the Senate voted Tuesday, 42-13, to allow the former Democrat turned hawkish Independent to remain chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee.

Many in the “netroots,” in posts on their blogs and in conversations with the Washington Times, said they wanted Senate Democrats to punish Mr. Lieberman by stripping him of the chairmanship, but have been angered by lawmakers refusal to do so and by Mr. Obama’s role in speaking out against retribution.

A blogger at firedoglake.com wrote Wednesday that the Lieberman flap is the latest example of an emerging pattern of disrespect shown by Mr. Obama to some of his most loyal supporters.

“When it comes to the netroots, Barack Obama has the long arm-short arm syndrome. He has taken much from us in terms of support, voice, momentum, money, footwork and energy. Obama has given little, if anything, in return to the netroots. Unless you count disdain and scorn. And pokes in the eye with a blunt stick,” wrote the blogger, who used the name bmaz.

Bmaz, who called the president-elect “Barack Obama the progressive hater,” also cited his reported choice of Eric Holder for attorney general and his vote in favor of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act as other betrayals.

Soon after the Lieberman vote Tuesday, Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean did a round of calls with a few of the most widely read bloggers on the left, and received an earful.

“With all due respect, Governor Dean, we were all just told to go screw ourselves,” said Jane Hamsher, firedoglake’s founder, according to a transcript of the call posted on her site.

“We were told to go Cheney ourselves,” she said, referring to the vice-presidents infamous expletive directed at a Democratic senator in 2004.

Mr. Dean, who burst onto the national scene during in 2004 thanks largely to support from the liberal grassroots and “netroots,” said he too was angry that Mr. Lieberman had campaigned against Mr. Obama and for Republican candidate John McCain.

But the former Vermont Governor nonetheless said he supported Mr. Obama’s decision not to push Senate Democrats to punish Mr. Lieberman.

A week before the Senate vote, Obama allies and aides told reporters that the president-elect wanted Mr. Lieberman to continue caucusing with Senate Democrats.

“I’m sure that the sentiment online is one of outrage. But I would line up with Barack,” said Mr. Dean, a physician who has been mentioned as a possible choice for Secretary of Health and Human Services in the Obama administration.

“I don’t think you were told to go screw yourselves at all,” Mr. Dean said. “I think [Mr. Obama] has now got to practice what he preached during two years of campaigns, that he wants to bring America together.”

Earlier in the call, Mr. Dean had said that his instinct had been to punish Mr. Lieberman.

“People of my generation think, ‘Yeah, damn right we should,’” he said. “But in the new spirit of reconciliation, which is why I think Barack Obama got elected by 66 percent of the under 35 vote, maybe it’s not the way.”

“Do we want to have a big fight about what should happen to Joe Lieberman? I don’t think so. I think we want to have a big fight about whether we’re going to have a decent health insurance program or a renewable energy program or not?”

Some Democrats and liberals felt that with their majority in the Senate now close to the filibuster-proof level of 60 seats, they did not need the Connecticut senator on their side anymore.

Mr. Lieberman said Tuesday that he credited Mr. Obama’s clemency as a big reason why he was not deprived of the powerful chairmanship.

“I know that my colleagues in the Senate Democratic Caucus were moved not only by the kind words that Senator Reid said about my long-time record, but by the appeal from President-elect Obama himself that the nation now unite to confront our very serious problems,” he said.

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