Al Gore’s choice of New Democrat Joe Lieberman as his running mate moves this listless presidential campaign even further to the right. Lieberman, known for his Bill Bennett-like moral rectitude (e.g., his public chastisement of Clinton at the height of Monicagate), may assuage some swing Clinton haters, but it’s hard to see how he will help shore up the party’s minority and working-class base. Democrats like Clinton and Gore may disdain the New Deal coalition, but they need to recruit what is left of it to combat lethargy and the Republicans’ carefully targeted voter-recruitment drive.
Lieberman is even more conservative than Gore, having voted to back school prayer, welfare reform, and vouchers. Along with Tipper he’s spoken out against “offensive” lyrics in pop songs. As for his much touted criticism of Clinton, it was of dubious import. Lieberman and Clinton are old friends, and Lieberman’s public statements had the effect of cutting the president a little slack. In the end, he voted against impeachment.
The choice also sends mixed signals, on one hand raising the issue of religion in national politics to a more visible level. As an Orthodox Jew, Lieberman may draw some right-wing Christers, who profess great respect for Israel, but it’s hard to see how he can make much of a dent in the Christian Right’s support for Bush-Cheney (not to mention the factor of Bible Belt anti-Semitism short of the racialist right). He is, however, the honorary chairman of the Center for Jewish and Christian Values, a group whose advisory board includes Ralph Reed. Still, the prospect of a thumb-sucking Democrat of the tutti-frutti Bennett stripe agonizing, like Gary Bauer and Alan Keyes, over the meaning of Nine Inch Nails lyrics, does not seem to be the kind of thing needed to bring out the Democratic base. Remember, Tipper tried it and went down in flames.
Of course, all of this is set against the background of George W. Bush’s religious campaign rhetoric and his embrace of church groups as purveyors of social welfare services.
Perhaps the most vulnerable group affected by the choice is the not inconsiderable bloc of non-Jewish ethnic voters who swung to the Republicans in the ’80s among the Reagan Democrats; and of course the relationship between the party’s key African American base and Orthodox Jews is fraught with tension. On the far-right fringe, which is tempted by Buchanan and always ready to march to the demagogic beat, hatred of Jews remains implacable.
As Los Angeles authorities started to block off streets around the Staples Center in preparation for the Democratic convention, activists were beginning the trek from Seattle and points east in vans and buses. But the prospects of a WTO-type fiasco seem unlikely, partly because the union rank and file that added muscle to the Seattle street demos this time will be in the arena getting it on for Gore. Unionists will make up one third of convention delegates, and AFL-CIO president John Sweeney emphasized to the Los Angeles Times: “We will be inside the hall.”
Meanwhile, Philadelphia was congratulating itself on emerging from the GOP convention with a new image enhanced by bike-blitzing Police Commissioner John Timoney, formerly of the NYPD. The city scraped by without major property damage. As for complaints of abuse—all week long activists had complained of harassment—Stefan Presser, director of the local ACLU, told The Philadelphia Inquirer, “I think it’s highly unlikely, the kinds of things that have been described.” However, bail was routinely set from $10,000 to $30,000 for misdemeanors, and in the case of John Sellers, 33, leader of the Ruckus Society—which instructs activists in how to conduct nonviolent civil disobedience—it was set at $1 million. Protest leaders argued that the bail was aimed at preventing Sellers and others from participating in street demos in Los Angeles. Philadelphia’s mayor, John Street, is a Democrat.
Reports of military maneuvers just outside Philadelphia fanned conspiracy fears. Wired magazine first reported obtaining a secret terrorism response plan issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) that called for shuttling C-5 Galaxy cargo planes loaded with military equipment into Willow Grove Naval Air Station 25 miles outside the city, and assembling troops at National Guard armories near the Center City protest areas. A FEMA spokesman confirmed the existence of such a plan (labeled “Operation Garden Plot”), but added that the agency did not have information indicating that a terrorist attack was likely to occur during the GOP convention.
George W. Bush’s running mate Dick Cheney is up to his neck in efforts to limit suits by workers exposed to asbestos. An exposé last week in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reveals that Cheney personally and the Halliburton Company, for which he was CEO, have contributed more than $150,000 to certain members of Congress. These legislators backed bills that sought to curtail suits by workers for asbestos exposure.
This is no minor matter. Some 273,000 suits had been filed against Halliburton since 1976 by workers who have claimed to be suffering from asbestos-related diseases, according to the Post-Intelligencer. At the end of 1999, 107,650 damage suits were still pending, including 46,400 new suits for damages filed against the corporation last year. Halliburton PACs and Cheney contributed $494,452 to congressional candidates from 1997 through June 2000, of which $157,500 went to 59 Republicans and four Democrats who cosponsored asbestos legislation. Cheney himself donated $12,500 to members who back asbestos bills.
Contributions from Cheney, Halliburton, and Halliburton subsidiaries went to 49 of 77 lawmakers who cosponsored the Fairness in Asbestos Compensation Act in the House and 14 of 29 cosponsors of similar legislation in the Senate.
“Our PAC has made contributions without regard to the pending asbestos legislation,” Zelma Branch, a Halliburton spokeswoman, told the Post-Intelligencer. “Any similarities between the supporters of such legislation and the recipients of contributions from our PAC are purely coincidental.”
Dubya’s “compassionate conservatism,” with its emphasis on religious groups dishing out charity rations to the needy, is no far-out right-wing idea but part of a powerful current in American life. Churches have sponsored soup kitchens for ages. Since the Reagan era, they’ve taken the lead in putting together “food pantries,” where families who have been kicked off food stamps can get bare necessities. And they’ve become big players in the health field. Religious health-care systems are growing at a faster rate than any others. In 1998, eight of the 15 largest U.S. health-care systems were run by the Catholic Church. As priests and nuns move into hospitals, so do religious rules and regulations. Catholics for Free Choice reports that there have been 127 mergers between Catholic and non-Catholic hospitals since 1990. In 48 percent of the consolidations, all or some of the reproductive services have been eliminated.
Catholic hospitals are expected to abide by “ethical directives,” which prevent them from providing contraceptives and distributing condoms, as well as offering abortions and infertility treatments. These rules differ in various locales, and often are made not in consultation with approved medical professionals but in consultation with the local Church leaders.
And religious ownership doesn’t just impact hospitals. A religious group may own outpatient clinics or medical buildings. In large cities, Catholic-owned HMOs enroll low-income families on Medicaid and impose their own restrictions on access, according to the National Women’s Health Network News.
When Dave Barry asked the House GOP majority leader at a Philadelphia convention party, “Are you really Dick Armey?” the Texas congressman replied “Yes, I am Dick Armey. And if there is a dick army, Barney Frank would want to join up.” Remarked Frank, “It’s a fairly gratuitous reference to my being gay, pulled out of nowhere. What kind of crude, silly, juvenile jibe is this for a national politician to be making?” Additional reporting: Kate Cortesi
When Dave Barry asked the House GOP majority leader at a Philadelphia convention party, “Are you really Dick Armey?” the Texas congressman replied “Yes, I am Dick Armey. And if there is a dick army, Barney Frank would want to join up.” Remarked Frank, “It’s a fairly gratuitous reference to my being gay, pulled out of nowhere. What kind of crude, silly, juvenile jibe is this for a national politician to be making?”
Additional reporting: Kate Cortesi