The bizarre nature of the second night of the Republican convention can be summed up this way: a partial eclipse of the president — by one of the Democrats he beat in 2000, Sen. Joe Lieberman.
I know some readers will say George W. Bush didn't really beat Al Gore and Lieberman, the Democrats’ vice presidential nominee, in 2000, but that controversy only adds to the oddity of this night at the convention.
Lieberman addressed the convention for 15 minutes in its prime-time closing segment. President Bush appeared, but not in prime-time television for East Coast viewers.
Speaking from the White House and looming on a video screen above the delegates, the president compared John McCain’s Democratic opponents to the Vietnamese who broke his arms after he was shot down.
“If the Hanoi Hilton could not break John McCain’s resolve to do what is best for his country, you can be sure the angry left never will,” the president declared.
Lieberman followed — in person, not on a video screen — with an appeal to Democrats to transcend their party affiliation and vote for his friend McCain.
Lieberman even had the chutzpah to employ Bill Clinton in an attack on Democratic nominee Barack Obama.
It was the oddest spectacle of this night: a hall full of Republicans — the very people who had moved to impeach Clinton — applauding their old demon, but only in the cause of bashing Obama.
In the Senate, Lieberman said, Obama “has not reached across party lines to accomplish anything significant, nor has he been willing to take on powerful interest groups in the Democratic Party to get something done.”
He asked the audience to contrast that with McCain's record.
“But let me go one further — and this may make history here at this Republican convention," he added with a chuckle.
"Let me contrast Barack Obama’s record to the record of the last Democratic president, Bill Clinton, who stood up to some of those same Democratic interest groups, worked with Republicans and got some important things done like welfare reform, free trade agreements, and a balanced budget,” Lieberman said.
Later Lieberman added it did not matter if you were “a Reagan Democrat, a Clinton Democrat, or just a plain old Democrat,” you should vote for the Arizona Republican.
It added to the weirdness if one recalled that Lieberman had voted against Bush Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito in 2006 and against the 2003 ban on the procedure known as partial-birth abortion, a ban signed into law by Bush.
At a convention where vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin personified the anti-abortion constituency of the GOP, Lieberman was the maverick with a zero rating from the leading anti-abortion group, the National Right to Life Committee.
Would Lieberman have preferred a starring rather than supporting role? Perhaps he would have, given his willingness to defy expectations and his seeming willingness to cause heartburn for his fellow Democrats.
A McCain-Lieberman ticket was a winter 2007 “fantasy baseball” notion after the duo addressed the conservative think tank the American Enterprise Institute on the need to send more U.S. troops to Iraq.
And after McCain clinched the nomination last spring, rumors swirled that McCain really did want Lieberman as his running mate.
But Lieberman’s address will be as close as he gets to the Republican vice presidential nomination.
Lieberman still caucuses with the Democrats in the Senate.
He’s still accorded seniority by them and is chairman of a major committee. Unlike ex-Democrat Norm Coleman, the Minnesota senator who addressed the convention early in the evening, Lieberman never switched parties.
Lieberman may be forced out of the Senate caucus by his fellow Democrats, but he won’t likely walk out.