By DeWayne Wickham
2008 was the year of the unlikely hero. It was dominated by the ascendency of Barack Obama, a slender black guy with a hip gait and a finely tuned political mind, into this nation's highest office.
But 2009 has turned out to be the year of the anti-hero. It is the year in which Joe Lieberman gets my nod - cynical though it is - as "American of the Year."
A Democrat of convenience, Lieberman has succeeded in doing what Benedict Arnold couldn't. In a masterful act of treachery, he retains a position of trust among the very people he betrayed.
By threatening to join a Republican filibuster, Lieberman forced Democrats to strip first a public option and then a Medicare buy-in compromise from the Senate's health care reform bill, provisions many experts and activists consider essential to reform.
Though political treason does not rise to the level of military treason, of course, it is treacherous nonetheless.
During the Revolutionary War, Arnold - a Continental Army general - plotted to turn over West Point to the British. When his scheme was discovered, he fled to Canada on a British warship appropriately called "The Vulture." Had he been caught, Arnold likely would have been court martialed and hanged.
Instead of suffering an equivalent political fate, Lieberman remains a member of the Democratic caucus and continues as chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee. With 60 members, which is the number needed to break a Republican filibuster, Democrats would rather keep a traitor in their midst than put him to flight.
This kid-glove treatment comes on the heels of the 2008 presidential campaign in which the four-term Connecticut senator campaigned for John McCain, Obama's GOP opponent. Yet during a speech to the Republican National Convention, Lieberman referred to himself four times as a Democrat - despite the fact that in 2006, this gadfly of political allegiance ran as an Independent. Why? Because he lost the Democratic primary, and this shift from D to I was the only way he could retain his seat.
But in working to strip the Senate's health care bill of the public option and Medicare buy-in provisions, Lieberman proved to be far from a loyal Democrat. Some critics charge that Lieberman, the Democratic Party's vice presidential candidate in 2000, was doing the bidding of the insurance industry in gutting the bill. He has received more than $1 million from insurance interests since 1990, the Center for Responsive Politics reported.
According to supporters, the public option and Medicare buy-in would pressure insurance companies to hold down costs and provide better coverage. They believe Lieberman was voting to fill his campaign coffers, not stand up for his principles.
While Lieberman isn't the only Democrat who waffled in supporting the Senate bill, he was the most uncompromising - and appeared to take the greatest delight in tweaking the noses of his Democratic caucus colleagues. And for this you've got to admire the guy's shamelessness.
Somehow he has convinced Democrats they are better off with him in their ranks. They cling to Lieberman in the hope that he'll help them beat back a filibuster despite all that he exacts from them, and the little he gives in return.
While Benedict Arnold may be his equal when it comes to guile, Joe Lieberman is unmatched in his ability to convince those he betrays to treat him as a friend - instead of the enemy he really is.