In his sharpest criticism yet of Dean, Lieberman said Tuesday that the former Vermont governor's comment that "the capture of Saddam has not made America safer" raises the specter of a Democratic Party weak on national security.Even if true, Dean's statement that nabbing Saddam doesn't make us any safer was a big gamble, if only because most Americans would disagree, and Lieberman has some room to run with this criticism. And I think Lieberman stands to gain something else here: Dean has snagged an undeserved reputation for intellectual consistency, based simply on some fairly rash statements about the war, statements that he has refused to modify. Lieberman actually has the stronger claim to consistency, having been for the war since before George Bush was.
"He thinks we're not safer by removing a homicidal maniac," Lieberman said in a speech. "The fact is that Governor Dean has made a series of dubious judgments and irresponsible statements in this campaign that together signal that he would take us back to the days when we Democrats were not trusted to defend our security."
Meanwhile, basic media physics go to work on Howard Dean now. Having moved from underdog to frontrunner status, we have to respect the theorem that the media loves to tear down a frontrunner as much as it loves to pump up an underdog. Politics is an expectations game, and no candidate wants the frontrunner crown well before a primary vote has been cast. An underdog Howard Dean could have finished a strong third in New Hampshire and still have been a contender. But now, he's a loser if he comes in anywhere but first. Lieberman, on the other hand, has nowhere to go but up. (Okay, he could fall into a dead heat with Dennis Kucinich, but I doubt that will happen.) In addition, though pre-primary polls in New Hampshire show him in Kerry territory (and a statistical non-entity in Iowa), he polls rather well nationally among generic Democrats and likely Democratic voters.
Can Joe make the run at Dean? I wouldn't care to bet on it. But look at it this way: Most of America was cheering this weekend to see Saddam in custody. Naturally. Now, how many of the Democratic candidates can wholeheartedly celebrate good news out of Iraq (like the capture of Saddam) without having to consult with the strategists? Just Lieberman. That's a nice place to be right about now.