. . . and “Independents” Like Joe Lieberman

“I won’t try to psychoanalyze the ‘naysayers,’” wrote Paul Krugman in  the The New York Times,  “I’d just urge them to take a good hard look in the mirror. If they really want to align themselves with the hard-line conservatives, if they just want to kill health reform, so be it. But they shouldn’t hide behind claims that they really, truly would support health care reform if only it were better designed.” (See “The Defining Moment.”)

“Psychoanalyze?”  This looks like a case of ducking behind a psychological call when it is perfectly clear that a moral judgment is intended – and may well be deserved.

The simplest explanation for Joe Lieberman’s position on healthcare reform is that he believes it is in his interest to join the Republicans in threatening to filibuster the bill.  He successfully ran for re-election without winning the democratic primary in 2006, and he endorsed McCain in 2008.  True, the democrats allowed him to remain in their caucus.  But as an independent, alienated from his party and deeply unpopular in his home state following Obama’s victory, Lieberman needs a creative strategy for his next election campaign.

Connecticut is home to many insurance companies who bitterly oppose the public option, as well as other provisions of the proposed bill.  It health care reform goes down to defeat, it is hard to imagine they would not be grateful for Lieberman’s help and eager to reward him.  And, no doubt, there are other sources of support he could look forward to enjoying a result of his position on this issue.

Self-interest is the likeliest explanation, but if a psychoanalytic call is at all relevant, I would suggest narcissism.  As a class, politicians are prone to that disorder, constantly seeking external affirmation to shore up inner uncertainty.  In Lieberman’s case, switching sides allows him to enjoy the experience of being courted, relentlessly affirmed, while also allowing him the to feel, as John McCain’s daughter Meaghan wrote on The Daily Beast today, that he is one of the rare heroes “that dare to cross party lines, think outside the box and say what they truly believe?” (see “Joe’s No Traitor.”

It is a kind of tightrope walk, of course, but it allows him to present himself as courageously independent – without too much real risk.  What we don’t know we know here is how self-interest and self-promotion work together.