Jewish World Review June 15, 2001 / 25 Sivan, 5761
http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- IT certainly is reassuring to hear that Joe Lieberman, newly en-gaveled as Chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, says that politics will not play a role in his panel's upcoming hearings on Bush administration energy policies. At least that's what the press reports say. But is that really what he means?
"I will refuse to allow oversight to become overkill," the junior senator from Connecticut said last week. "I will not use the powers that come with this committee chairmanship to practice the politics of personal attacks and destruction," he added, flexing his gravitas. "I reject the idea of wasting taxpayer dollars on investigations aimed at no more than political retribution." Hark the rhetorical tremolos: The Conscience of the Senate speaks.
Awfully noble of him--or is it? Much of the media seemed to think so, interpreting his remarks, as did the New York Times, by writing that Mr. Lieberman had said his committee "would take on tough issues in a bipartisan manner." Bipartisan manner? No doubt Mr. Lieberman's 49 Republican colleagues are still smarting over the "bipartisan manner" in which he aimed political digs at their conduct in the majority--back when they presumably busied themselves "wasting taxpayer dollars on investigations aimed at no more than political retribution," using the powers of committee chairmanships "to practice the politics of personal attacks and destruction," and allowing "oversight to become overkill."
If Mr. Lieberman is referring to the doomed efforts of Congressional Republicans to investigate and stave off the tsunamis of Clintonian corruption that washed over government institutions for eight years, he is exhibiting a manner about as bipartisan as a paid political consultant making the rounds on cable.
So recognize Mr. Lieberman's posturing for what it is: The political maneuvering of Senate Democrats on the march. Revving up an "oversight investigation," which, as the Washington Post described it, "is sure to highlight Democratic charges that Bush has failed to respond adequately to rising energy costs," is just Democratic party strategy, which is about as partisan as it gets.
Once upon a time, Mr. Lieberman might have been expected to number among the dwindling members of that endangered species known as the Centrist Democrat, whose John Breaux of Louisiana and Zell Miller of Georgia have joined President Bush to help pass the president's tax plan and budget. No more. Apparently, being Al Gore's running mate was what you might call a radicalizing experience. Having openly indicated an interest in the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination, Mr. Lieberman now has a party base to tilt left for.
Which is fine and good. But ennobling such power-politicking as pedestal-ready "bipartisanship" is all wrong. Mr. Lieberman's role as Democratic attack dog--albeit, as the New York Times Magazine picturesquely described him, one with "the soft mouth and loosening jowls of a friendly basset hound"--may take some getting used to. Even as practiced an analyst as the Brooking Institution's Stephen Hess recently expressed a measure of amazement at Mr. Lieberman's aggressive new image. "I was a little surprised at Lieberman's comments," Mr. Hess recently told the Washington Times. "There was a sort of sharp-edged note to it. A red flag went up in my mind at the notion of suddenly Lieberman, of all people, talking about oversight."
Better get used to it. Of course, there's nothing wrong with partisanship per se, much-maligned though it may be. What may prove tiresome, though, is the rather unbecoming eagerness with which Mr. Lieberman has taken to flaunting the mantle of perpetual aggrievement. That is, by continuing to question the outcome of the 2000 election, Mr. Lieberman is increasingly prone to make statements that are--let's put it this way--unlikely to go down in the books as illustrations of statesmanship. "I think we won Florida: Who knows?" Mr. Lieberman was still saying earlier this year.
More recently, after Trent Lott memorably tagged James Jeffords' majority-breaking defection from the Republican party a "coup of one," Mr. Lieberman left a White House meeting with President Bush to say, "When I heard that [Mr. Lott's] statement I smiled broadly because on that basis one could ask the same questions about the resident of the house behind me."
No matter how close the 2000 election was, George W. Bush was the
constitutionally elected winner. To compare his election--a democratic
decision made at the polls--with Mr. Jeffords' power-shifting defection
engineered in secret long after the polls were closed, is no way for a
responsible, democratic leader to talk, no matter how broadly he smiles. Don
't be fooled. It looks like even basset hounds have
JWR contributor Diana West is a columnist and editorial writer for the Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.