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Alan M. Webber
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Alan M. Webber

Alan Webber, a founding editor of Fast Company magazine, is an award-winning editor, author, and columnist. His most recent book is Rules of Thumb: 52 Truths for Winning at Business Without Losing Yourself.

Annals of narcissism

Since this is a leadership blog, it's fair to assume one of its key functions is to draw a distinction between what is and what isn't genuine leadership. In that spirit, it's hard to make the case that anything Joe Lieberman has done in the course of the Senate debate on health-care legislation constitutes real leadership.

Taking one position, then suddenly reversing it? Acting as a self-important obstructionist? Let's be clear: Joe Lieberman wasn't trying to bring together a new centrist position around health-care legislation. He wasn't putting out a compromise position that others could rally to. Most of his conduct seemed to be less about health care for Americans and more about Joe Lieberman for Joe Lieberman.

It was with Joe Lieberman in mind that one observer said, "We've gone from a Senate that could be lionized in 'Profiles in Courage' to a Senate that deserves to be lambasted as Annals of Narcissism." Just for the record, this is not the stuff of leadership.

But to focus all that attention on Joe Lieberman misses a more profound point: Lieberman's leverage in this situation derived from the rather astonishing fact that not one single Republican senator is willing to support health care legislation. None, zero, nada, zilch, zip. Are there no Republican voters whose only health-care option at the moment is the nearest emergency room? Are there no Republican voters who have applied for health insurance, only to find themselves dumped into a high-cost, low-coverage, high-risk pool because they might actually have a condition that needs insurance?

It's astonishing there isn't one Republican who thinks that engaging in this vitally important national debate is worth doing, if not for their own career, at least for their constituents' lives. But apparently, "leadership" in this case is defined as party discipline: hoping to wound the president and foment talk of a "failed presidency," playing for time to wear down the public's interest in a complicated measure, and giving leverage to dissident Democrats who, the Republicans cynically hope, will derail their own party's measure.

This is the kind of "leadership" that actually makes Joe Lieberman look good; at least he was willing to deal.

But ultimately it all reinforces the impression that political narcissism has replaced serious engagement with public policy and the public's business. Maybe someday someone will win a prize for a book called "Annals of Narcissism:" Chapter one -- Joe Lieberman.

By Alan M. Webber

 |  December 22, 2009; 6:09 AM ET
Category:  Political leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Thanks to the investigative reporting by Comedy Central's "The Daily Show", we got to see Lie-berman touting his proposed expansion of Medicaid to those 55 and older just 2 months before he threated to kill a bill containing this provision.

Hey Joe, how about quiting the Senate fo you can be a full-time lobbyist for AIPAC?

Posted by: braultrl
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I think you're confusing Lieberman with Ben Nelson, who should quit his job to join the Vatican, wear Prada shoes, pointy hats and gowns, paid for with the dough he gets from the insurance companies and big pharma.

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Posted by: huangzhixian175 | December 22, 2009 10:04 PM
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We all basically agree the system is broken, but don't forget it was the Supreme Court who ruled that free speech included all the speech your money could buy and ruled Corporations should have equal standing. This crisis shall endure until we are undone.

Posted by: ussgeronimo | December 22, 2009 6:44 PM
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Now it's payback time. Lieberman dealt Obama a blow. Oh what a great Democrat he is. Instead of helping 'his President' to realize his vision Lieberman is about to destroy him with his tricks. The others Dems are playing Lieberman's game pretty well indeed. Every senator's wish had to be implemented in this phony bill - Santa Claus could not make it better for the kid's wishes.
Come on, the $100m wish for Sen. Todd's reelection next year is peanuts in terms of the whole project's size. A few pounds extra weight to a ton - who should bother?
Giving some pork on an arranged bazaar gives Lieberman the right platform to show who's really in charge.
The Dem-Senators love Lieberman's Delicatessen - $1000bn project with 60 times single interest's wishes - whoa, that's really an achievement everbody should be proud of?!
The cold buffet is open - any other orders to be implemented as trade-off for a vote??
Take all you can get until Christmas Eve - a remarkable end of 2009.

Posted by: kielkanal | December 22, 2009 3:57 PM
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The "Are there no Republican voters..." set of questions are understandable if one assumes that "Republican voters" at large actually matter. They don't. Neither do Democratic "voters." For members of the U.S. Senate, whether Ben Nelson, Joe Lieberman, or any number of Republicans, the only relevant question is "What do my clients think?" Senators do not represent "voters" in their states. Rather, they represent business client groups from their states who pay for their very expensive election campaigns every six years and who, then, reward them with lucrative golden parachutes when they retire (e.g.,partnership in a major lobbying or law firm; an executive position in a corporate trade association or interest group, etc.) This approach, obviously, is poor public leadership, but I'm afraid that's what we're stuck with when it comes to high-stakes legislation that hinges on individual senators' votes, and until there is a constitutional amendment that bans corporate money from our electoral system. But, of course, the "voters" always say that they don't want their tax dollars used to finance elections. Seems we're in a bit of a quandary....hmmmm.

Posted by: jmssherman | December 22, 2009 1:36 PM
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With all due respect to the country's founders, this is what you get when you establish a body of 100 free agents that is answerable to the voting public every 6 years.

Posted by: EnemyOfTheState | December 22, 2009 12:10 PM
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While I agree that the republicans' favorite and only word is NO, and that there was party discipline so strong that no one dares speak up, I fear that too many of the voters have been swayed by the republican-based dis-informers, who talk about death panels, raise specters of events that aren't even in the proposed legislation, and drive decisions by some legislator's religious beliefs and personal agendas. What a travesty!
This is NOT leadership.

Posted by: Marywexler38 | December 22, 2009 11:41 AM
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The people of Connecticut and the country at large are most poorly served by this self-serving egotist. Because the GOP is essentially a black hole at the moment, that makes Lieberman's behavior that much more inexcusable.

Posted by: CopyKinetics | December 22, 2009 11:39 AM
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Thanks to the investigative reporting by Comedy Central's "The Daily Show", we got to see Lie-berman touting his proposed expansion of Medicaid to those 55 and older just 2 months before he threated to kill a bill containing this provision.

Hey Joe, how about quiting the Senate fo you can be a full-time lobbyist for AIPAC?

Posted by: braultrl | December 22, 2009 11:24 AM
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Well done. The false premise of the question is that Lieberman avoided “partisanship and ideological rigidity.” His stated reasons for first opposing the public option and then reversing himself on the Medicare buy either made no sense or were factually erroneous, and Ezra Klein and others repeatedly pointed out. The most logical explanations for his positions are (1) ideological rigidity, (2) partisanship (getting revenge on those who opposed him in 2006) or (3) protecting the insurance industry. The last is the most benign explanation, but if that is his motivation, he is, at a minimum, disingenuous.

Posted by: dwells3 | December 22, 2009 10:08 AM
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Well done. The false premise of the question is that Lieberman avoided “partisanship and ideological rigidity.” His stated reasons for first opposing the public option and then reversing himself on the Medicare buy-in either made no sense or were factually erroneous, and Ezra Klein and others repeatedly pointed out. The most logical explanations for his positions are (1) ideological rigidity, (2) partisanship (getting revenge on those who opposed him in 2006) or (3) protecting the insurance industry. The last is the most benign explanation, but if that is his motivation, he is, at a minimum, a liar.

Posted by: dwells3 | December 22, 2009 10:03 AM
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