Tuesday, June 06, 2006


Hey Ho! Joe's Got to Go! Come On Democrats; It's Time This Republican Lite Gets The Boot; Let's Shift The Senate Left!

Seasonal Memory Lapses

Paul Bass Hartford Courant

June 4 2006

Medical researchers have identified a host of causes for amnesia, from encephalitis to traumatic brain injury.

I've discovered another cause: political campaigns.

Exhibit A: The current campaign in Connecticut for the Democratic U.S. Senate nomination.

In the wake of challenger Ned Lamont's surprisingly strong showing at last month's Democratic convention, the race has begun to take shape. Both candidates are trying to define the race - and each other - early. Lamont seeks to cast incumbent Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman as an out-of-touch apologist and crucial helper of President Bush's Iraq war and environmental, economic and health-care policies. Lieberman seeks to identify his opponent as an out-of-touch plutocrat. (Lamont, a tech entrepreneur, is worth between $90 million and $300 million.)

Meanwhile, in ads and public statements, Lieberman portrays himself as Regular Joe, a fighter for the little guy, in touch with blue-state Connecticut and mainstream Democrats on all issues except Iraq.

And somehow we - not just Lieberman - keep a straight face, as if he hadn't just spent 18 years helping Republicans hijack the Constitution and pick on little guy after little guy.

The Bush administration values Joe Lieberman because he has been a crucial ally in efforts to free Enron-style corporate crooks from regulation, transfer wealth to the wealthy, hound gays, trample on the rights of government critics and sacrifice the lives of thousands of Americans and Iraqis to dishonest, dangerous military adventurism.

Lieberman understands how, in campaigns, you can make people forget all that. You can change the subject by making fun of your opponent for being rich. Then, with millions of dollars from wealthy donors, you can reinvent your record.

Watching Lieberman and Lamont these past few weeks, I had to wonder: Am I the one with amnesia?

So I went up to the attic and pulled out my Lieberman file, with clippings and documents collected from covering him during his three terms in Washington.

It was true. My memory was faulty. I had remembered that, out of the eye of voters back home, Lieberman developed working alliances with the most hypocritical and dangerous right-wingnuts like Ralph Reed and Charles Murray and Bill Bennett. But I had forgotten just how extensive a record he had accumulated.

I had forgotten how he played the leading role in 1993 to thwart Democrats who tried to close loopholes allowing companies to cook the books on millions of dollars of stock options. Thus began the regulatory abandonment that spawned Enron and its sibling rip-offs.

I had forgotten how that same year, Lieberman joined with Republican Sen. Alphonse M. D'Amato of New York and against Democrats to "work the cloakrooms" of the Senate, in the words of a news account, to "line up unanimous support so that a tax break eagerly sought by the real estate industry could be passed without senators having to vote on the record."

How many Connecticut Democrats remember that their senator was one of only two Democrats who voted with Republicans in 1995 to kill a lobbyist-gift ban? Or that he called affirmative action "un-American?" Or that in August 1994 he voted in favor of a proposal by Republican Jesse Helms to cut off all federal money from schools that offer counseling to suicidal gay teens by referring them to gay support groups or in any way suggesting it's OK to be gay?

Or that Gov. John Rowland and Lieberman had the same fundraiser, Michael Lewan, raising the same campaign cash from the same fat cats, because, as Lewan told the Courant, "they're two like-minded guys?"

Did most Connecticut Democrats even know that Lieberman helped Lynne Cheney found a McCarthy-style group called the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, which hounded liberal university professors for criticizing American foreign policy, including the president of Wesleyan University?

No wonder Lieberman could vote to confirm an attorney general, Alberto Gonzalez, who wrote the legal opinion excusing torture. Most recently, Gonzalez threatened to start prosecuting journalists for publishing classified information in order to silence government critics. But that was weeks ago. The new Fightin' Joe is on our side. A real Democrat.

Now it's true that Lieberman earns high marks on Democratic interest group "report cards." That's because he plays a shell game in which liberal interest groups are complicit. He gets the "right" mark for voting against Samuel Alito's Supreme Court nomination, for instance. But he gives the Bush administration the vote it needs to make Alito a judge, by voting to stop a filibuster.

Similarly, he held back on voting for Clarence Thomas's nomination until the first Bush administration saw it had the votes. Then Lieberman could safely vote against Thomas and earn the "right" grade.

It's fine for Lieberman to join Republicans in ideological arguments. He does that a lot for someone still calling himself a Democrat. And when he can publicly excoriate President Clinton for having sex with an intern - then hold back on President Bush's immoral lying about Iraq and illegal spying on Americans - he steps over not just a party line, but an ethical line as well.

It's also true that Lieberman has acknowledged some errors. He told me in past interviews that he was wrong to vote with Helms on the gay-bashing proposal. He said he erred in joining the Cheney group. But such after-the-fact admissions ring hollow when he continues to oppose gay marriage, or when he accuses critics of the Bush administration's Iraq war of endangering national security.

Finally, it's true that Joe Lieberman is a genuinely nice person, a decent man. That has nothing to do with his record, with masquerading as a Connecticut Democrat while enlisting in a Republican assault on Americans' bedrock freedoms and norms of social justice. Good people do awful things when power tempts. In watching this senate race unfold, remembering that adage might help ward off the most dangerous effects of Connecticut's political amnesia.

Paul Bass edits the New Haven Independent (www.newhavenindependent.org).

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