Sen. Joe Lieberman has announced that he might filibuster any health care reform bill that includes a public option, but MSNBC's Rachel Maddow finds Lieberman's motivations something of a mystery.
For one thing, Lieberman has stated that he opposes the public option because it is a vast new entitlement program that would either be paid for by taxpayers or send the federal deficit skyrocketing -- all of which is inaccurate according to a Congressional Budget Office study cited by Maddow. For another, Lieberman has previously opposed filibusters on principle, even signing a pledge in 2005 that he would filibuster only under "extraordinary cirumstances."
Maddow turned to Glenn Greenwald of Salon.com, asking, "What do you think is motivating him?"
"It's clearly not because the people he's supposed to be representing favor it," Greenwald replied, pointing to a recent Daily Kos poll showing that Connecticut voters support the public option by an overwhelming margin of 68-21. "I think clearly what it's about is primarily the fact that the industry that he's serving by doing this ... is an industry from which he receives a very substantial benefit."
"He's drowning in campaign contributions from the insurance industry, the health care industry, the pharmaceutical industry," Greenwald continued. "In early 2005, his wife was hired by a large PR firm, Hill & Knowlton, in the pharmaceutical division. ... I think what you're seeing here is the kind of legalized corruption, legalized bribery that runs the United States Senate -- only in this case it's particularly sleazy and transparent."
When Maddow asked why the Democrats should allow Lieberman to retain his chairmanship of the Homeland Security Committee, Greenwald noted that the Obama White House has not been reluctant to put pressure on progressive Democrats in Congress by threatening to withhold its support in their future campaigns. "There are all sorts of things the Democrats and the White House can do if they're serious about pressuring members of Congress to support a public option -- and we'll see how serious they are," Greenwald concluded.
Analyst Nate Silver of fivethirtyeight.com, however, has a very different take on Liebeman's motivations, and he suggested earlier this week that "the reason this is a little scary for Democrats is because the usual things that serve to motivate a [c]ongressman don't seem to motivate Joe Lieberman."
"Lieberman is generally not one of the more sold-out [s]enators," Silver notes, "ranking 75th out of the 100-member chamber in the percentage of his fundraising that comes from corporate PACs." After pointing out that Lieberman doesn't seem to care about his constituents, the Democratic Party, or even sound public policy, Silver offered the idea that "What Joe Lieberman wants, in all probability, is attention. ... He wants everyone to know how maverick-y he is.
"It's tough to bargain with people like Lieberman who are a little crazy," Silver concludes. "In certain ways, he resembles nothing so much as one of those rogue, third-bit Middle Eastern dictators that he's so often carping about, capable of creating great anxiety with relatively little expenditure of resources, and taking equal pleasure in watching his friends and enemies sweat."
This video is from MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show, broadcast Oct. 28, 2009.