Robert Novak

WASHINGTON -- Mary Matalin, longtime Republican political operative and Vice President Dick Cheney's adviser, seemed near tears on the Fox News Channel Tuesday night as adverse voting returns for Sen. Joseph Lieberman came in from Connecticut. With Matalin a reliable indicator of her party's line, she began an outpouring of GOP grief over Lieberman's Democratic primary defeat. That was a remarkable reaction to a liberal senator who has given George W. Bush scant help on any issue other than Iraq, from which he now also has retreated.

In Lieberman's and my school days, this would be called shedding crocodile tears (defined by Webster's as "a hypocritical show of sorrow"). Cheney himself deplored Connecticut's results, and presidential adviser Karl Rove placed a publicized telephone call to the senator. Republicans cast anti-war primary winner Ned Lamont as a cross between Joe McCarthy and George McGovern. Contradicting his 18-year Senate voting record, Lieberman is identified as a Democratic centrist (supposedly one of the last of that breed).

With Republican morale sliding three months before midterm elections, Connecticut provided welcome news for GOP strategists. Republican National Chairman Ken Mehlman on the day after the primary was in Cleveland facing a Republican meltdown in Ohio and warned of a McGovernite takeover of the Democratic Party by elitists. Mehlman described Rep. Sherrod Brown, a left-wing congressman who leads Republican Sen. Mike DeWine for re-election, as a Midwestern Lamont.

But how different from Lieberman would Lamont vote in the Senate? Not much. President Bush, always seeking Texas-style centrists, famously hugged and kissed Lieberman on the House floor after delivering the 2005 State of the Union Address. Aside from Iraq, it has been unrequited love with Lieberman consistently denying Bush needed votes. Lieberman was in Connecticut campaigning Aug. 3 when the Senate again failed to break a filibuster against estate tax relief, but he would have voted no had he been there.

In key votes of the last Congress selected by the Almanac of American Politics, Lieberman followed the straight liberal line in opposing oil drilling in ANWR, Bush tax cuts, overtime pay reform, the energy bill, and bans on partial birth abortion and same-sex marriage. Similarly, he voted in support of Roe v. Wade, and for banning assault weapons and bunker buster bombs. His only two pro-Bush votes were to fund the Iraq war and support missile defense (duplicating Sen. Hillary Clinton's course on both).

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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