Where does Lieberman meet McCain? (Answer: Iraq)

Sen. Joe Lieberman is one of the most polarizing figures in American politics. Hated by the progressive left and bizarrely embraced by many on the right, his story tells us plenty about the state the politics in America. None of it pretty.

Al Gore’s vice presidential pick in 2000, Joe has had a tough go of it since. A staunch defender of the war in Iraq, the senator ran afoul with his party, lost in a Connecticut primary, became an independent (though he still caucuses with Democrats) and, finally, endorsed his friend and colleague, Republican presidential candidate John McCain.

“Well, I say that the Democratic Party changed,” Lieberman told ABC’s “This Week” this past Sunday. “The Democratic Party today was not the party it was in 2000. It’s not the Bill Clinton-Al Gore party, which was strong internationalists, strong on defense, pro-trade, pro-reform in our domestic government. It’s been effectively taken over by a small group on the left of the party that is protectionist, isolationist . . . and very, very hyperpartisan.”

Hyperpartisanship is nothing new. (It’s just featured prominently online these days.) But Lieberman seems to operate under a multitude of misconceptions — or maybe just wishful thinking.

After all, does Lieberman truly believe only a “small group” of leftists have taken over his former party? Class warfare, anti-trade and anti-free-market positions have found increasing support within the Democratic Party. Judging from the polls, it’s the mainstream.

The thing is, Lieberman hasn’t been an “internationalist” or a free-trader himself. Once Iraq is lifted from the Lieberman oeuvre — and obviously Iraq is a vital, perhaps the most vital, issue for many Americans — the Connecticut lawmaker lands squarely in the center of his old party on most issues.

In 2007, NARAL graded Lieberman a perfect 100 — as did Planned Parenthood in 2006. On gun rights, the National Rifle Association gave Lieberman an F based on his lifetime voting record. Lieberman supported the interests of the Americans for Tax Reform only 15 percent of the time, FreedomWorks 17 percent and the National Taxpayers Union only 15 percent. In 2007, Lieberman received a 7 percent rating from the fiscal conservatives at The Club for Growth.

In 2006, Sen. Lieberman supported the interests of the American Conservative Union 17 percent of the time. Yet the National Education Association gave Lieberman an A and the AFL-CIO contends that the senator supported its causes 84 percent of the time in 2007.

Now, Lieberman may be wrong or right on all these various policy positions, but none are remotely in tune with the Republican Party’s (by now theoretical) platform. So why, then, does Lieberman endorse a self-described conservative candidate? (Answer: Iraq.) More curiously, why is the Republican presidential candidate so receptive to his endorsement? (Answer: Iraq.)

“I’m a Democrat who came to the party in the era of President John F. Kennedy,” Lieberman also said. “It’s a strange turn of the road when I find among the candidates running this year that the one, in my opinion, closest to the Kennedy legacy, the John F. Kennedy legacy, is John S. McCain.”

Lieberman surely understands the Democrats haven’t been the party of JFK for many decades. The center shifts, the world changes. Fact is, Lieberman’s voting record resembles LBJ’s, not JFK’s.

As expected, Republicans have repeated Lieberman’s shots at the Democratic Party as evidence of ongoing ideological cleansing on the left — and they may be right. But the fact that Lieberman feels completely comfy with the GOP’s presidential candidate begs a question:

Is McCain now a Lieberman Democrat? Or is Lieberman a McCain Republican?

Or, is there any difference?