Lieberman lost to political newcomer Ned Lamont
because Lieberman has become an extreme example of a Democrat who puts
getting respect from Washington’s pundit class over everything, even
over principles and causes that most Democrats hold dear – from a
functioning democracy to the environment.
Lieberman would rather be welcomed onto Fox News
Sunday or banter with radio talk-show host Imus than be known as a
hard-nosed fighter against global warming or for electoral reform. In
his hunger for the respect of the insider class, he displays the conceit
of a man who presents himself as above politics but is not above
Lieberman’s post-defeat statement – that he will
run as an independent because he views Lamont’s victory as a turn toward
overt partisanship – summed up what many rank-and-file Democrats dislike
“The old politics of partisan polarization won
today,” Lieberman told supporters. “For the sake of our state, our
country and my party, I cannot, I will not let this result stand.”
Yet, Lieberman only seems to object to partisanship
when it is displayed by Democrats.
Time and time again, Lieberman has tolerated
aggressive partisanship from Republican strategists like Karl Rove or
from right-wing pundits such as Sean Hannity – even when they denounce
Democrats as unpatriotic, un-American or treasonous.
Despite the insults that right-wing pundits have
hurled at Democrats and liberals, Lieberman still relishes his
appearances on Fox News – where he has hailed Hannity as a personal
friend – and on any number of other national pundit shows.
Lieberman comes across as a politician obsessed
with maintaining his place as a respectable “adult” at the Washington
insiders’ table rather than someone who fights for issues, including the
environment, that he professes to hold dear.
Although Bush has undercut environmental
protections and has denied the dangers of global warming, Lieberman has
basked in his cozy relationship with the President – sealed with a peck
on the cheek from Bush at the State of the Union speech.
Even in 2000, when Al Gore picked Lieberman as his
Democratic running mate, Lieberman resisted playing the traditional
hard-hitting role that effective vice-presidential candidates perform.
Rather than blunting attacks on Gore or delivering
body blows to Bush, Lieberman kept his eye on maintaining the respect of
Many Democrats unhappily recall Lieberman’s
gentlemanly debate with his Republican rival Dick Cheney. Instead of
arguing that it was unthinkable to put ne’er-do-well George W. Bush in
the White House, a jovial Lieberman acted like it didn’t matter much
which presidential candidate won.
Lieberman also didn’t follow up on Cheney’s obvious
debate lie that he had amassed his personal fortune as head of
oil-supply giant Halliburton Co. without any help from the government.
“The government had absolutely nothing to do with it,” Cheney told a
Lieberman stayed silent
then and later, even as Cheney went on the offensive against Gore for
supposedly puffing up his résumé.
“He [Gore] seems to have
a compulsion to embellish his arguments or … his résumé,” Cheney said on
Oct. 6, 2000. “He seems to have this uncontrollable desire periodically
to add to his reputation, to his record, things that aren’t true. That’s
worrisome and I think it’s appropriate for us to point that out.”
While Cheney savaged
Gore, Lieberman was satisfied to accept the kudos from Washington
insiders about the maturity of his polite debate performance.
Not surprisingly, the
big newspapers and the major television networks also offered no
challenge to Cheney’s comment about his self-made wealth. Bloomberg
News, a business wire, was one of the few outlets that took note of
the variance between Cheney’s assessment and the facts.
“Cheney’s reply left out
how closely … Halliburton’s fortunes are linked to the U.S. government,”
Bloomberg News said.
noted that Halliburton was a leading defense contractor (with $1.8
billion in contracts from 1996-99) and a major beneficiary of federal
loan guarantees (another $1.8 billion in loans and loan guarantees from
the U.S.-funded Export-Import Bank during Cheney’s years).
The article also cited
internal Ex-Im Bank e-mails showing that Cheney personally lobbied bank
chairman James Harmon for a $500 million loan guarantee for Russia’s OAO
Tyumen Oil Co. The Ex-Im loan guarantee, approved in March 2000, helped
finance Halliburton’s contract with Tyumen.
In further contradiction
of Cheney’s self-made-man claim, Cheney gave a speech to the Ex-Im Bank
in 1997 in which he said:
“I see that we have in
recent years been involved in projects in the following (countries)
supported, in part, through Ex-Im activities: Algeria, Angola, Colombia,
the Philippines, Russia, the Czech Republic, Thailand, China, Turkey,
Turkmenistan, Kuwait, India, Kenya, the Congo, Brazil, Argentina,
Trinidad and Tobago, Venezuela, Indonesia, Malaysia and Mexico. … Export
financing agencies are a key element in making this possible, helping
U.S. businesses blend private sector resources with the full faith and
credit of the U.S. government.” [Bloomberg News, Oct. 6, 2000]
So, in Cheney’s own
words in 1997, U.S. government loan guarantees had been “a key element
in making” Halliburton’s worldwide operations “possible.” Three years
later, however, Cheney insisted that “the government had absolutely
nothing to do with” his business success.
Yet, fresh from this
false pronouncement about his self-reliance, Cheney took the offensive
denouncing Gore for alleged exaggerations about his own history.
Normally, hypocrisy is
considered a big story, especially when the accuser’s behavior is more
egregious than the actions of his target. Yet, Cheney’s own résumé
polishing was barely mentioned in the major news media. Nor was it
contested by Lieberman, the logical person to challenge Cheney’s lie
that was made to Lieberman’s face.
But that was not Joe
Lieberman’s style. He chose to sit back and watch Cheney mock and insult
In other words, when
Bush and Cheney have operated with the utmost partisanship against
Democrats, Lieberman objects little or none. He may have gone along with
the unfair ridicule heaped on Gore, in part, because virtually every
major national pundit also was piling on against the Democratic
However, when Democrats
have tried to fight back – even on issues of principle like the Iraq War
and Bush’s expansive assertion of executive powers – Lieberman is
energized to denounce this political activism in the harshest terms.
Suddenly, Lieberman is
deeply distressed by “the old politics of partisan polarization,” so
much so that he feels compelled to reject the judgment of the Democratic
voters of Connecticut and run against the party’s nominee.
Lieberman can continue to count on the admiration of Washington’s
consultant class who will praise Lieberman for having the “courage” to
stand with President Bush.
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra
stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from
Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at
secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at
Amazon.com, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine,
the Press & 'Project Truth.'