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Jewish World Review August 24, 2000 / 23 Menachem-Av, 5760

Michael Kelly

Michael Kelly
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Consumer Reports

AlGore's Flex-O-Joe -- IT IS SOMETHING to marvel at, in a depressed sort of way, the speed with which Joe Lieberman has misplaced every single one of his best principles, darn it. ("They must be here somewhere. Okay, think, if I were a principle, where would I be?")

Lieberman likes to note, these days, that he has never been as far out of the mainstream of the Democratic Party as some people think, that he has always, in fact, been a good liberal. And this is on the whole true enough. Lieberman's Senate voting record has won him high marks from liberal groups and low marks from conservative groups. Nevertheless, there was a difference between Lieberman and the average party hack, and this difference was one that Lieberman cultivated and celebrated.

The difference was not that Lieberman was conservative; it was that he was, supposedly, independent--this demonstrated by his repeated willingness to take positions that important constituent groups in the Democratic Party strongly opposed.

Yes, there were only a handful of issues on which Lieberman broke with the pack. But these issues--affirmative action, school vouchers, Social Security, Clinton scandals, tort reform--were the core issues that defined what it meant to be a New Democrat. It meant, precisely, standing up to the party's controlling special interests on these litmus tests. Without this, there is no true New Democrat position. It is not an exaggeration to say that the rise of the New Democrats and the rise of Lieberman--and these are nearly synonymous--rest on this handful of stand-up moments.

Well, the Democrats' stand-up guy stands no more. Recently Lieberman, the man with the iron backbone, has become Lieberman, the human pretzel, performing, now in the big top, every day, Amazing! Stupendous! Truth-defying! Acts of Contortion, as he erases the man he was and morphs into whatever it is that the people who pull the levers in the party want him to be. A few examples:

On privatizing Social Security by allowing workers to invest some portion of their taxes in the stock market, Lieberman had this to say in a 1998 interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune: "I would support that. . . . We now have decades-long history of an average 10 percent return on stocks. . . . So, yes, I would support it. . . . It doesn't make sense anymore not to do that with this enormous investment pool that we're supposed to have for Social Security. . . . I think in the end that individual control of part of the retirement/Social Security funds has got to happen."

In an interview on Aug. 8 with Larry King, Lieberman maintained that it was "not true" that he had ever favored privatization of Social Security; he had merely been "intrigued" by the idea. In remarks to AFL-CIO members in Connecticut, Lieberman attacked George W. Bush for proposing to "savage" Social Security with "a privatization scheme that would take $1 trillion out of the nest egg that belongs to every worker in America and jeopardize the program's stability and the security of the working future of the American people."

On affirmative action, Lieberman has a clear record of opposition to group preferences. In 1995, Lieberman issued a statement declaring that "many affirmative action programs must change because they are inconsistent with the law and the basic American value of equal treatment and opportunity." That year Lieberman said, "You can't defend policies that are based on group preferences as opposed to individual opportunities, which is what America has always been about." Lieberman supported Ward Connerly's Proposition 209 to abolish state-funded racial group preference programs in California. "I can't see how I could be opposed to it," he said. "It basically is a statement of American values . . . and says we shouldn't discriminate in favor of somebody based on the group they represent."

On the first day of the convention, in his first planned appearance, Lieberman told the Democratic National Committee's black caucus that "there's been misunderstanding" of his opposition to affirmative action. He said: "I have supported affirmative action, I do support affirmative action and I will support affirmative action."

The old Joe Lieberman was a strong supporter of school voucher programs, anathema to the teachers' unions. "The undeniable reality is that this system is already in ruins and to blindly reject new models and refuse to try new ideas is simply foolish," argued Lieberman in a written statement in Congress on April 17, 1997. The new Flex-O-Joe assured the black caucus that "the main support that I've always given has been to the public schools," although he conceded that he had "supported some demonstration programs for vouchers," making his prior position sound like a youthful experiment with drugs.

Well, goodbye to all that. Joe, it turns out we hardly knew ye.

Michael Kelly is the editor of National Journal. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


08/17/00: The Joyful Clinton Nation
08/09/00: A Calculated Risk
08/03/00: New Hope for Nice Guys
07/27/00: But What About Dad?
07/20/00: U.S. Handiwork In Sierra Leone
07/13/00: President With a Porpoise
07/06/00: The Importance of Being Earnest
06/29/00: A Press Obsession With the Death Penalty
06/21/00: Gore and the Goodies
06/15/00: Network Snooze
06/01/00: Sunshine on My Shoulders
05/24/00: Last Chance for a Hardened Prevaricator
05/17/00: Cuomo's Thought Police
05/10/00: Hammering DeLay
05/04/00: Some Closing Thoughts
04/28/00: Endangering Elian
04/19/00: Imitation Activism
04/12/00: Why they hate Bubba
04/05/00: Census and nonesense
03/29/00: The Stiffs and Their Statuettes
03/15/00: Anarchy in Kosovo
03/08/00: Reform joke
03/01/00:The Pinhead Factor
03/01/00: The Christian Right: Past Its Prime . . .
02/24/00: McCain's Majority
02/16/00: Sharpton's Supplicants
02/09/00: The GOP Pilgrims' Sad Tale
02/02/00: Fodder For the GOP
01/26/00: Million-Dollar Mediocrity
01/19/00: Campaign Reform: Let's Pretend
01/12/00: Never Again? Oh, Never Mind
01/05/00: Turn Off, Tune Out, Drop In
12/22/99: Gore's TV Gambit
12/15/99: Campaigns Do Clarify
12/08/99: Kosovo's Killers
12/01/99: Not Ready for Prime Time?
11/24/99: The Company He Keeps
11/17/99: Republican Illusion
11/10/99: The Know-Nothing Media
11/03/99: Necessary Partisanship
10/27/99: Buchanan's Gift to George W. Bush
10/21/99: Who are the real friends of the poor?
10/14/99: Gore's 'courage'!?
10/08/99: Republican Stunts
09/23/99: Buchanan's folly
09/16/99: Beatty and Buchanan: That's Entertainment!
09/09/99: Puerto Rico Surprise (Cont'd)
09/02/99: Puerto Rico Surprise
08/12/99:The Age of No Class
08/05/99: Assessing Welfare Reform
07/29/99: On the Wrong Side
07/21/99: Mass Sentimentality
07/15/99: Blame Hillary
07/08/99: Guide to the Arts: For Your Summer Reading . . .
06/30/99: A Perfectly Clintonian Doctrine
06/25/99:Smorgasbord by the Sea
06/16/99: A National Calamity
06/09/99: Stumbling Forward
06/02/99: Commencement '90s-Style
05/26/99: Will we ever learn? Clintochio is a lying ...
05/19/99: Comforting Milosevic
05/13/99: Short-Order Strategists
05/06/99: Four Revolting Spectacles

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