Okay, now that I've finally thrown off the burden of having to hew to a party line, I can finally come clean! I really dig Joe Lieberman. (And this isn't just a matter of tribal affiliation.) He rocks. Actually I didn't use to have much use for him at all - especially when he used to be the darling of all the more reproachable people in DC, when he used to always be knocking his own party, and especially when he used to hang out with that cretin Bill Bennett. But, hey, let's let bygones be bygones, okay?
Now, here's the deal. There are at least a half a dozen Democratic senators who want to run for the big office in 2004 - including Lieberman, to put it mildly. But for the moment let's just focus on the two marquee New Dems who are in the hunt - Lieberman and Evan Bayh.
It's really not too much to say that in terms of positioning for 2004 Lieberman is just kicking Bayh's butt. It's almost painful to watch.
Any New Dem who hopes to be in the hunt in 2004 must at least give props to the liberal base of the party. They're not going to be the liberals' choice for the nomination. But they can't be unacceptable to them either.
Lieberman came out of the 2000 race with a strong sentimental bond with the base of his party. He didn't so much need to prove himself to them as he needed to keep those embers of affection burning.
But he's actually done much more than that by becoming the most conspicuous advocate of a progressive alternative to the Bush tax cut - focusing the debate on the importance of the payroll tax burden and advocating a substantial tax cut weighted towards working families.
Each of the presidential wannabes is carving out their own signature issue. Kerry's got environment. Edwards is taking up Patients' Bill of Rights. But the tax cut issue is really an issue apart - especially for a New Dem trying to broaden his appeal within his party. Why? Because to the left of the party - the part Lieberman needs to appeal to - its fiscal policy that is the big enchilada, the issue they always fear they're going to be sold out on.
And what's Bayh's angle? That would be ahhhhhhh â¦ pretty much nothing. His big angle is the trigger mechanism - which has gotten almost no political traction, and which most observers now agree is a practical nullity.
Most importantly, it doesn't significantly depart from the Bush package.
Yes, Democrats argue that the surpluses may not materialize and that we could be plunged back into deficits. But the essence of the Democratic argument is that even if the surpluses do materialize, the Bush tax cut package still represents a massive misallocation of funds - both in terms of who gets tax cuts and what other priorities the money could be spent on.
Part of what's going on here seems to be a matter of staff. Lieberman's operation is A-list and Bayh's just isn't (we'll say more about why later). But equally important Bayh just doesn't seem willing to sign on with what the vast majority of Democrats are thinking when it comes to tax policy. He won't even sign on to the tax package put together by the DLC, the group of which he is now the chairman. He won't even really come out against the Bush package.