From firstname.lastname@example.org Fri Sep 29 10:59:28 2000
Date: Fri, 29 Sep 2000 03:17:46 -0400
From: Jennifer Jones <email@example.com>
Subject: [BRC-NEWS] Who is Joe Lieberman?
Who is Joe Lieberman?
By Dr. Manning Marable firstname.lastname@example.org
in Along the Color Line,
The major political surprise of this summer was
Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore's selection of
Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman as his running mate.
Lieberman, a socially conservative Orthodox Jew, had first
become widely known nationally as the most prominent Senate
Democrat to denounce President Clinton's misconduct in the
Monica Lewinsky scandal. The media, for the most part, was
overwhelmingly positive with the selection of the first
Jewish candidate on a major party national ticket. The New
York Post, for example, declared that Lieberman was "Miracle
Man Joe." The Miami Herald summed up the general media
consensus: "Gore's VP Pick Historic."
What was most unusual was the Republican response
to Lieberman, which was also extremely positive. William
Bennett, Reagan's former secretary of education declared
that even "conservatives acknowledged that the vice
president had made a wise choice by picking a man of
principle, intelligence and civility." Republicans
immediately noted that the Connecticut Senator was
ideologically closer on many issues to Texas
Governor George W. Bush than to Gore.
The surprising selection of Lieberman by Gore raises
three unavoidable questions, from the vantagepoint of African-American
politics: (1) Who is Joe Lieberman?; (2) Why did Al
Gore choose him? and (3) What does it mean for black people?
Who is Lieberman? To his credit, one of his
earliest involvements in politics was during the summer of
1964, when he traveled south after graduating from college to
participate in the "Mississippi Freedom Summer," organizing
and registering black voters. After a modest career as a
state senator and Connecticut's state attorney general,
Lieberman stunned the political establishment by upsetting
liberal Republican Lowell Weicker for the Senate in 1988.
Weicker was generally a progressive voice on civil rights,
and had even been arrested in 1985 for demonstrating against
Reagan's policies favoring apartheid South Africa. Lieberman
defeated Weicker in part by attacking him from the right, on
such issues as the Republican incumbent's call to normalize
relations with Cuba.
Throughout his twelve years in the U.S. Senate,
Lieberman positioned himself on the extreme conservative
wing of the Democratic Party. He chairs the Democratic
Leadership Council (DLC), the "centrist" group of elected
officials (including Clinton and Gore) who have aggressively
pushed their party toward more conservative public policy
On a wide variety of issues, Lieberman is clearly
to the right of both Clinton and Gore. On gay rights, for
example, in 1994 Lieberman supported an amendment offered
by reactionary Republican Senator Jesse Helms, which cut off
federal funds to any school district that used educational
materials that in any way "supported homosexuality."
Lieberman has a long record of hostility toward
affirmative action that even his liberal apologists in the
Democratic Party cannot hide. Back in 1995, when Lieberman
took over the DLC, he declared, "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 embraced California's Proposition 209 in 1996,
which outlawed affirmative action programs in that state.
When President Clinton, after months of hesitation, finally
put forward the formulation that affirmative action programs
ought to be "mended, not ended," Lieberman led the opposition
within the Democratic Party. The DLC's Progressive Policy
Institute issued a report criticizing Clinton's position,
and called for abolishing it for government hiring and
contracting, and making it voluntary in private business.
On issues of higher education, Lieberman has again
played a conservative role. He was the only Democrat to vote
against liberal historian Sheldon Hackney, the President
of the University of Pennsylvania, to become head of the
National Endowment for the Humanities. He claimed that
Hackney was too liberal on campus issues of "political
correctness." Lieberman then became co-founder of the
American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a five-year-old
group that rejects "racial preferences," opposes "political
correctness," and defends "Western civilization." Another
co-founder with Lieberman is the notorious Lynne V. Cheney,
former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities,
ideologue of the Far Right, and wife of Richard B. Cheney,
the Republican vice presidential candidate.
On militarism, Lieberman was one of only ten Senate
Democrats (including Gore) to support President George Bush's
war against Iraq. He favored a more aggressive use of U.S.
military force in Kosovo. Lieberman vigorously supports the
deployment of a new missile defense system. On economic issues
he's generally pro-business, and he challenged Democratic
leaders in 1989 by supporting a capital gains tax cut. Not
surprisingly, he championed Clinton's brutal 1996 Welfare Act.
Lieberman's most recent conflicts, prior to his
nomination as vice presidential candidate, have been over
public schools. He has consistently promoted voucher schemes
to divert funds from public education, claiming that vouchers
would "give poor kids and their families a lifeline out of
Given this remarkably conservative record, for
a Democrat, why did Gore select him as his running mate?
I think there were several factors at work. Gore felt he
had to distance himself from Clinton's sex scandal and
impeachment fiasco. What better way to separate himself than
by embracing Clinton's chief Democratic critic? Second, the
selection of a Jewish candidate gave Gore the image of being
independent-minded, or as one Democratic pollster put it,
"much more strong-willed than most people realize." Lieberman's
selection was calculated to help the Democratic ticket in New
York, Connecticut, New Jersey and possibly Florida, and should
assist Hillary Clinton to win a New York Senate seat. But the
primary reason Gore selected Lieberman is because they basically
agree on nearly all important issues. Both men are centrist,
"New Democrats." Gore's 2000 party platform soundly rejected
liberal positions on literally every major issue - including
capital punishment, health care, military spending, and
assistance for the poor. Under the so-called "party of the
people," the Gore-Lieberman ticket supports globalization,
the death penalty, limited expansion of health coverage,
and the allocation of federal resources for debt reduction
rather than to rebuild inner cities or reduce black infant
Where does all this leave African Americans? I
looked at the staged New York Times photograph of Senator
Lieberman standing before the meeting of the Congressional
Black Caucus at the recent Democratic National Convention.
Standing on either side of Lieberman are Labor Secretary
Alexis M. Herman and Congresswoman Maxine Waters. Only hours
before, Herman and Waters had engaged in a spirited public
disagreement over the selection of Lieberman. In the photo,
Herman looks relieved, and Waters appears sad. Perhaps
Maxine reflects the grim realization of other black
Democrats, who are now forced to campaign for candidates
and a party platform they privately oppose. All they are
left with is to frighten black voters to the polls with
the spectre of a Republican victory.
They don't realize the obvious: the Republicans
have already won. By accepting Lieberman onto the ticket,
as Nation writer David Corn states, Gore "has accepted - or
surrendered to - the Bush terms of battle." Bush, Cheney,
Gore and Lieberman, in the end, only reflect variations
of the same bankrupt political philosophy.
Dr. Manning Marable is Professor of History and Political
Science, and the Director of the Institute for Research
in African-American Studies, Columbia University. "Along
the Color Line" is distributed free of charge to over 350
publications throughout the U.S. and internationally. Dr.
Marable's column is also available on the Internet at
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