The Curious Case of Joe Lieberman
First of all, he votes with the Republicans an astonishing amount of the time. He voted for the resolution to authorise George W. Bush to use military force in Iraq. (Anyone not completely blinded by naivete could tell ante facto that authorising Bush to take military action against Iraq was akin to handing a loaded gun to a homicidal maniac.) He voted for the Defense of Marriage Act. He backed the Republicans in their handling of the Terri Schiavo case. He's in favour of compromising with the Republicans on Social Security privatisation. (Guess he never heard Grover Norquist opine that "bipartisanship is date rape," huh?) He also supports censorship of various media, legal state executions (aka "the death penalty," what a charming euphemism) even for minors, NAFTA and so-called "free trade," school vouchers, and the policy of legally allowing hospitals to refuse to dispense emergency contraception to rape victims, which earned him the nickname "Short Ride Joe" in certain circles. He's also been making suspicious rumbling noises about leaving the Democratic Party and running as an independent should he lose the primary to Lamont.
Being Canadian, I'm all too familiar with what can happen in closely-contested multi-candidate races. The Premier of Ontario before the current one kept getting elected with what would be a losing vote percentage in a two-candidate (or two major candidate) race, if I recall correctly, in the 35% range. Having Lieberman run as an independent would surely split the vote, and who knows what the race would look like then?
I'd also like to point out another thing about Lieberman that I think puts him into suspect territory. He seems to hold some views which I think are very incompatible with a balanced US foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East. Of course, Lieberman is Orthodox Jewish, which would tend to give him a slightly different view of Israeli and Palestinian issues than many politicians, and that's fine. One is allowed by law and custom in US politics (and elsewhere) to have one's politics shaped by one's religion and morality. All well and good. Where I draw the line is at his associating with Beged Ivri. At least, I am assuming he's associated with them, since his photo appears on their website, and they have a page of correspondence to and from him as well. If indeed he really is even somewhat sympathetic to their beliefs, it's problematic to say the least.
(For those of you who don't speak Hebrew, that means, literally, "Hebrew Garments." It may have an idiomatic meaning of which I am not aware; my comprehension of Hebrew is pretty basic -- I can follow the lyrics to a lot of popular songs, the kind about the cute boy down the block and/or cars and girls; I can read newspaper articles with a dictionary, and I can carry on a basic conversation, although I'm better at listening and reading than speaking and writing.)
So what is Beged Ivri? Well, according to their homepage, "Beged Ivri is the Levitical Ministry, established in 1983, for the research and restoration of ancient Israelite customs in preparation for rebuilding the Holy Third Temple in Jerusalem." That sounds kind of fun, in a way. I mean, I belong to the Society for Creative Anachronism, and I'm a pro-am historian (yes, I'm getting paid money to write about streetcars, how cool is that?!). I happen to think that dressing up in funny costumes and doing historical-type stuff (including research...lots and lots of research) is great fun. The problem is, Beged Ivri is, as near as I can figure, serious. They're not just doing this for shits and giggles on weekends, like the average historical recreation club. They really do want to restore ancient Israelite Temple Judaism, rebuild the Temple, and enact the appropriate halakha* to go with. Note the picture of Joe Lieberman displayed prominently on the Beged Ivri site, goofy costume and all.
There are numerous problems with Lieberman's (tacitly or explicitly) endorsing such a position, not the least of which is that the site of the former Temple is now the Dome of the Rock, which is an extremely holy site in Islam. All three major Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) consider the site to be of significant religious importance, which has helped fuel the ongoing religious and political conflict over the site. Right now it is a Muslim shrine; Beged Ivri, and, by extension, Lieberman, think that the Muslims (and likely the Christians) have no claim on the Temple Mount, and should therefore be expelled so the Temple can be rebuilt. Holy war! This factionalism also contributes to the disputed status of Jerusalem, where both the Israelis and the Palestinians claim the city as part of their (divinely promised) territory. This also entangles nicely with the Dominionist Christian view of the region, with which Lieberman is (perhaps paradoxically or naively) in sympathy.
The other problem is that this view is far, far outside the mainstream of most Jewish and especially Israeli thought. As seems to be the case, American Jews take a much harder line on many of these issues than do Israelis, probably because they don't have to coexist with the consequenses of their beliefs. As one Israeli friend of mine put it, "I am in favour of policies conducive to my continued survival." While there is no shortage of extreme and fringe elements in Israeli politics, they're usually moderated to a certain degree by a larger population that does not agree with their positions. That's not to say that Israeli politics are the pinnacle of virtue. Israelis seem to be politically obstinate, simultaneously conservative and extravagant, and a little bit prone to exceptionalism, which makes their sociopolitical makeup similar in some ways to both Canada's and the US'. All three countries have their extreme religio-political factions, and we've seen firsthand how disastrous it can be when they're in power.
In short, Lieberman holds a wealth of positions that seem contrary to the Democratic Party's broader interests, and may lapse over into harmful extremism. If Lamont should unseat him in the primary and eventually win Lieberman's Senate seat, it might improve the political complexion of the Democratic Party. (I'm pretty sure the Republicans are a lost cause.)
* Jewish religious law.