The ‘Miracle’ of Joe Lieberman


In her August 10 New York Times column, Joyce Purnick wrote that Jewish New Yorkers were “exultant” and felt “validated” by Al Gore’s laying of hands on Joe Lieberman. We Jews, she wrote, were “exuding the kind of pride we haven’t seen since Israel won the Six-Day War in 1967.”

The Jews who spoke to me—and all but one were Democrats—were furious and disgusted. They and I did not feel validated by a cold, manipulative political move to distance Gore from a priapic president.

And there was Lieberman, thanking God, who led us out of Egypt, for this “miracle”! Then, like a “court Jew” of centuries ago, Lieberman shed his vaunted principles to be part of the team that had lifted this Jew up to be inside the pale.

Purnick is a good journalist. She writes a reporter’s column—not just top-of-the-head stuff. Did she not know that his Senate speech—in which Lieberman became the only Democrat to somberly condemn the president for his immorality—was itself a cold, manipulative political move to try to cleanse the Democratic Party?

On February 13, 1999, Washington Post reporter Robert Kaiser quoted Lieberman as admitting that his famous rebuke to Clinton was delivered because Democrats had worked so hard “to reestablish the party’s connection to mainstream values.” The party wanted to show it knew “the difference between right and wrong.” Since, Lieberman added, “Clinton himself was at the center of this transformation, I feared that . . . we were in danger as a party.” That’s why he gave the speech.

Lieberman then told Kaiser: “I don’t want to be too self-inflating,” but his grave condemnation of the president on the Senate floor was meant to allow Democrats to say, ” ‘I agree with Joe Lieberman,’ and it seemed to help.”

Now, see the transformation of this “conscience of the Senate,” who, from the beginning of his Senate career, has sponsored bills to give parents public tax money for vouchers to send children to private schools, including religious ones. But having been consecrated by Gore, Lieberman is changing his mind about vouchers. After all, he would only be the second banana to President Gore.

The once and former “conscience of the Senate”—who voted against conviction of impeachment once he had given his party cover for the serial perjury, obstruction of justice, and tampering with witnesses of its leader—has also abandoned another principle.

Like George W. Bush, Lieberman has advocated privatizing part of Social Security retirement funds. But suddenly, now that God’s “miracle” has brought him to the promised land of the vice presidency, Lieberman has renounced privatization.

Speaking at the AFL-CIO Connecticut convention on the very day that God spoke on his behalf to Al Gore, Lieberman wholly adopted Gore’s attack on privatization.

In the August 10 New York Post, Robert Novak reported—and it has not been denied—that in June of this year, the Gore handlers told Lieberman to prepare an “op-ed column on Social Security.” He was being considered for the vice presidency, and thus—to paraphrase Dick Cheney—he should learn to wear other people’s clothes.

Lieberman’s op-ed about-face was to be called “My Private Journey Away From Privatization.” Under Lieberman’s byline, it would attack the plan as “an expensive experiment” and thumpingly endorse the Gore approach. The conversion by this highly principled senator “appeared in no newspapers,” Novak reported, “but was filed at Gore headquarters for future distribution”—once God was ready to perform the “miracle.”

In the same column, Novak pointed out, as another illustration of the ethical rectitude of Lieberman, that after gaining world attention for his sermon on presidential wickedness, “he voted with the White House against calling witnesses in the impeachment trial.”

I once had a long argument with Lieberman about his scorn for the First Amendment. Bill Bennett, who often joins Lieberman in attacking the “destructive values” of movies, television, and recordings, is nonetheless careful to make a distinction between censuring and censoring.

But, as Eric Mink underlined in an illuminating column in the August 9 Daily News, Lieberman has pushed for laws requiring government control of television content. As Mink explained it, Lieberman argued that “the Federal Communications Commission should make value judgments about programs before renewing TV stations’ licenses.” (Emphasis added.)

Nor has Lieberman overlooked the Internet as a medium whose content is in crucial need of government regulation. As Mink writes, Lieberman and John McCain—who also believes the First Amendment needs revision—sponsored a bill giving the Federal Trade Commission the power to impose a single standard on violence on “all media, from network television to the Internet.” In my conversation with Lieberman, I cited a long line of Supreme Court decisions to the contrary, but he would not be moved.

The Lieberman “miracle” was apparently wrought by the God of the Old Testament because now both the Republican and Democratic tickets are wholly composed of relentless advocates of capital punishment. Ralph Nader is the only candidate in opposition.

Lieberman is supposed to be a pillar of what Gore calls politics “for the people.” But as the Times reported on August 9, the bulk of Lieberman’s current campaign contributions come “from businesses, mostly finance, insurance, and real estate.”

If you’re for universal health insurance, bear in mind that a spokesman for the American Council of Life Insurance says, “We consider Mr. Lieberman a friend of the insurance industry.” Also admiring Lieberman are such pharmaceutical companies as Bayer Corporation, the Bristol-Myers Squibb Company, and Pfizer, Inc. All these companies have offices in Connecticut.

During Lieberman’s two terms in the Senate, a spokesman for the United States Chamber of Commerce told the Times, he has voted “on the side of business interests more than almost any other Democrat.”

Unlike Joyce Purnick, this Jew has not been “validated” by the kind of “miracle” that lets you win at a sidewalk three-card monte game.

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