A couple weeks ago, Sen. Joe Lieberman, the self-described "Independent Democrat" from Connecticut, received a phone call from a close friend and frequent traveling companion, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. McCain wanted to know if Lieberman would endorse his presidential bid.
It may seem a long journey, emotionally and politically, from being the Democratic Party's vice presidential nominee in 2000, to endorsing a conservative Republican for president, less than eight years later — an endorsement scheduled for Monday morning in Hillsborough, N.H.
That journey might look even more odd, considering Lieberman's continued liberalism on many issues. In 2006, he garnered a 75 percent voting record from both the liberal Americans for Democratic Action and the ACLU, and a 100 percent rating from the labor union American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees.
But Lieberman's left-leaning views on domestic issues aside, after talking with his family and a couple of aides, he decided the journey to McCain-land was one he was willing to make.
The two were good friends, had worked together on global warming and the 9/11 Commission, and, perhaps most important, the need to keep fighting the war in Iraq. The two not only occasionally traveled to that country together — most recently around Thanksgiving — they had recently co-authored an op-ed, published in the New Hampshire Union Leader, calling any efforts by the Democratic-controlled Congress to cut off funding for the war, "inexcusable."
A top Lieberman aide says the senator disagrees with McCain on many domestic matters, including abortion and affirmative action, but "on the key issue, the central issue of being commander in chief, and leading the war against Islamic extremists, they see eye to eye." Additionally, the aide says, Lieberman sees McCain as having "the unique ability to bring Democrats and Republicans together."
Lieberman does not see this endorsement as a departure. "From his viewpoint, he hasn't changed as much as his party has," says the aide, saying the senator sees himself in the muscular foreign policy school of Harry S. Truman and John F. Kennedy, citing Lieberman's support for the first Gulf War in 1991, intervention in the Balkans in the 1990s, his call for regime change with the Iraq Liberation Act in 1998, and his vote to authorize use of force against Iraq in 2002.
"He sees John McCain as more representative of the Joe Lieberman-Harry Truman-John F. Kennedy national security perspective, than any Democratic candidate is," says the aide.
And that is key. "He has a fundamental difference on national security policy with the field" of Democratic presidential candidates. "Many of those Democrats who supported authorization to go to war, subsequently endorsed a deadline for withdrawal, which he opposes, which he thinks would be a disaster."
Last month, at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies, Lieberman eviscerated Democrats on foreign policy. "For many Democrats, the guiding conviction in foreign policy isn't pacifism or isolationism — it is distrust and disdain of Republicans, in general, and President Bush, in particular," he said.