Donald Trump picking Joe Lieberman for FBI director would be canny, awful.

Trump Picking Joe Lieberman for FBI Director Would Be Incredibly Canny and Equally Awful

Trump Picking Joe Lieberman for FBI Director Would Be Incredibly Canny and Equally Awful

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
May 18 2017 6:19 PM

Say It Ain’t Joe!

Donald Trump picking Joe Lieberman for FBI director would be incredibly canny and equally awful.

Joe Lieberman
This guy again? Former Sen. Joe Lieberman leaves the West Wing of the White House after meeting with President Donald Trump on Wednesday.

Olivier Douliery/AFP/Getty Images

One of the underappreciated side horrors of the ongoing Donald Trump nightmare has been its release of certain ghouls from the cellar of American politics, where they were supposed to be locked for eternity. Thanks to the Donald Trump presidential campaign, Newt Gingrich and Rudy Giuliani returned to the daily political conversation. That wasn’t good. Donald Trump himself had been left for dead as a quasi-political figure several years prior to his campaign launch. His return really wasn’t good. Yikes!

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Jim Newell is a Slate staff writer.

This latest summoning-by–sinister incantation will sting many just as acutely. It’s 2017, and we may soon have former Sen. Joe Lieberman back, smack-dab in the center of American government, right where his ego requires him to be. Lieberman has always viewed himself self-righteously as the arbiter of all that is true and decent in America. He’ll take that gig however he can get it, even if it means serving at the pleasure of President Trump.

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Both CNN and Politico reported on Thursday that Lieberman is the front-runner to replace James Comey as FBI director after a White House meeting, where the former Connecticut senator likely delivered the requisite suck-up comments about electoral maps necessary to win the appointment of his choosing. If Trump does go with Lieberman, that’s proof positive that “showboating” was hardly Trump’s main gripe with the previous holder of the job.

This appointment wouldn’t just be annoying for liberals because they’d be facing the prospect of Lieberman holding a prominent 10-year post (though, as Trump has shown, the next president could always fire him). What’s most annoying about this potential appointment for liberals is that this … would be something of a smart move from Donald Trump. No matter what Lieberman has done and no matter how many times he has stabbed their party in the back, he’ll always be afforded some degree of collegiality from some Senate Democrats. The appointment of the former Democratic vice presidential nominee would be enough to check the superficial messaging box of a “bipartisan selection.”

Lieberman achieved national fame with a 1998 Senate floor speech blasting President Clinton’s actions during the Lewinsky scandal as “disgraceful” and “immoral.” “It is harmful, for it sends a message of what is acceptable behavior to the larger American family, particularly to our children,” he said at the time, “which is as influential as the negative messages communicated by the entertainment culture.”

In one of the most Democratic Party moves ever, Vice President Al Gore’s presidential campaign decided that the scold who trashed his still-popular boss would make an excellent addition to the presidential ticket. Gore lost, and Lieberman made some comments that were not entirely helpful during the recount process.

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The next stage of Lieberman’s career—and for his sake, we’ll just gloss over his failed 2004 bid for the Democratic presidential nomination—was to fall absolutely in love with the Iraq war. It was his favorite thing. Boy, did he love that war! This caused him to lose his 2006 Democratic senatorial primary. But no matter, Lieberman thought. The primary voters had simply made a disgraceful, immoral, and harmful error at the ballot box. He ran as an independent and won the general election, earning 70 percent of the Republican share of the electorate.

Lieberman continued caucusing with the Democrats, who had just taken control of the Senate, allowing him to maintain his senior status in the majority. After he endorsed John McCain over Barack Obama in 2008—speaking at the Republican National Convention, no less—some Senate Democrats wanted to strip Lieberman of his committee chairmanship. It was Obama himself who urged then–Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to lay off, and Lieberman kept his job.

The defining achievement of the remainder of Lieberman’s Senate career, prior to his 2012 retirement, was on separate occasions nixing a public health insurance option and a Medicare buy-in option from the Affordable Care Act, either of which would have greatly expanded affordable health care coverage and improved health outcomes in the United States. “To put this government-created insurance company on top of everything else,” Lieberman said of the public option, “is just asking for trouble for the taxpayers, for the premium payers and for the national debt. I don’t think we need it now.” This rhetoric earned a rousing line of applause from the leaders of Aetna and Cigna, two of the insurance titans based in his home state.

Ten more years of Joe Lieberman would be President Trump’s—and Lieberman’s—most frustratingly shrewd troll of liberals so far. He might not get the votes of a majority of the Democratic caucus, but he would probably get some—both old pals with whom he served and some of the red-state Joe Manchin types. That’s all Senate Republicans and the Trump administration would need to fulfill their talking point that it was wise to replace Comey, with whom both Democrats and Republicans had gripes, with Lieberman, an honest-to-God Democrat respected on both sides. That would be a perfectly damning legacy for Lieberman, the man so concerned with the immoral, harmful, and disgraceful aspects of politics and culture: He’s just what Donald Trump needs to get out of a jam.

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