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Posted 5/14/12

Joe—Upbeat About America


Sen. Joe Lieberman
Photo by Steve Kotchko

U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) has less than eight months left in office, and said he’s trying to form a bipartisan “bucket list caucus” of Senators who are also retiring but want to work together in the time remaining to get some things done in the gridlock-plagued Congress.

Lieberman spoke at a New Haven Chamber of Commerce luncheon recently, and painted a picture of the United States as a world power that still has the potential to be the dominant world power if it could only get its act together at home.

After reaching the political pinnacle of being the first politician from Connecticut to be on a national ticket (2000 Democratic vice president nominee), Lieberman’s star in Connecticut has dimmed considerably because of his fights with the liberal wing of his party, and his flirtation with Republicans including 2008 GOP presidential nominee Sen. John McCain.

His recent New Haven speech avoided partisan politics, and was a more reflective piece focusing on America’s challenges and opportunities at home and abroad.

The Senator said the American public continues to worry about the Nation’s unsettled economy, and gets no relief from official Washington.  “People watching Washington see an ideological rigidity, partisan loyalty ahead of what’s good for the country, too much extremism—and really what people want us to do is get together, compromise, and get some things done,” he said.

He painted a gloomy picture of the U.S. debt crisis and said if left untended, it will lead to weakened or endangered benefits in Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, not to mention the effects on defense programs and other essential elements of the federal government.

“We’re going to have to increase taxes on people with higher incomes,” said Lieberman.  “We’re going to have to ask them to pay a little bit more and I hope we can do that with tax reform that doesn’t discourage people with money from investing,” he said.  Spending cuts will also be needed, and all of that action will involve members of Congress taking political risks, and working together, for the good of the Nation, he explained.

In his remarks, Lieberman clearly separated himself from observers who believe America’s best days are over, that the U.S. is a declining world power that will eventually yield the top spot to up-and-comers such as China.

“As you look around the world, there’s nowhere I’d rather be than the United States of America,” said the Senator, “and I think our future is better than any of the countries that others are talking about.”

He discussed a trip he made to Asia visiting Thailand, Myanmar (Burma), Vietnam and the Philippines—nations that are expanding their economies and looking for a stronger connection to the rest of the world.  Lieberman said these countries want to “embrace us (America) and be embraced by us.”  He said that is evidenced by steps to move to market-based economies and opening up their political systems to curry the favor of the U.S.

Using those Asian nations as an example, Lieberman said there is a geopolitical dynamic in play that America can capitalize on, and that is “they’re afraid of China.”  He added that “in almost every part of the world, “we’re preferred to whoever is their regional power” such as China in Asian-Pacific region, Iran in the Middle East, and Russia in Europe.

The Obama administration is not blind to this phenomenon and has made strategic military moves with Navy and Air Force deployments plus diplomatic initiatives to respond to nations that put out “feelers” seeking stronger relations with the United States.

The Senator said pro-democracy groups in Middle East nations experiencing the “Arab Spring” of revolts against established regimes represent another constituency the United States should focus on.  He talked about a meeting he had in Turkey with Syrian freedom fighters who told him they’d had a “romance” with militant Muslim entities such as Hezbollah and Iran only to realize they weren’t “for the people but just for power.”  Lieberman said the insurgents are realizing America should be their model telling him:  “You believe in what we believe in America, you’re what we want to be.”

Yet all of that potential for improving the U.S. image abroad, and cementing America’s status as a super power, instead of watching it crumble, is held back by the Nation’s insecurities at home, according to Lieberman.

“In this moment of self-doubt in our country, if we had as positive a feeling about ourselves as most of the rest of the world does, we’d be in good shape,” the Senator concluded.

Follow Steve Kotchko on Twitter for news and insider tidbits on politics and government@CRN_News