News & Politics

Joe Lieberman's Endless Hypocrisy

If you don't like Sen. Joe Lieberman's position on an issue today, just check back with him tomorrow.
In 1988 a slightly younger but no-less-father-on-the-show-Alf-looking Joe Lieberman stared into a camera during one of his commercials in the Senate race, with that false earnest façade that has aided his electoral fortunes for years. He proclaimed, taking a clear shot at his opponent, three-term Republican incumbent Lowell Weicker, that "after 18 years, it's time for somebody new ... it's time for a change."

Lieberman claimed he wouldn't miss more than 300 votes, he wouldn't have one of the worst attendance records in the Senate and that he would retire after three terms (the tally for Lieberman after three terms and 18 years in the Senate: 418 votes missed, the second worst attendance record over the past six years and still clutching his Senate seat). Apparently, all of these statements are no longer operative.

In 2006, Lieberman is now playing the role of Weicker 18 years ago -- the only difference is his party affiliation. After his own party told him they'd had enough and decided to send him packing in the Democratic primary, he continued running against actual Democrat Ned Lamont and actual Republican Alan Schlesinger as a member of the exclusive Everybody Loves Lieberman Party, which I believe is its nom de guerre these days.

It is this willingness to say or do whatever is necessary to hold on to his U.S. Senate seat, damn the consequences to what he claimed to believe last year or even last week, that makes Lieberman, a smarmy, power-hungry little yapping poodle of a politician, the perfect poster-boy for the amoral might-makes-right culture that currently animates our political system.

Ever since Lieberman defeated elder statesman Weicker in that 1988 race, largely by portraying him as weak on Communism -- along the way garnering the support of William F. Buckley and the McCarthy-loving National Review -- there hasn't been a single issue on which Lieberman has been willing to risk an unpopular position or maintain a modicum of consistency.

He would seemingly invade Cuba tomorrow, but charges forth into slave-labor trade deals with Communist China at the behest of his corporate paymasters (and at the expense of his constituents' jobs). He once marched with Martin Luther King Jr., yet now forebodingly and dishonestly refers to Al Sharpton as "one of Ned Lamont's closest advisors," hoping the mere mention of the controversial African-American preacher will summon white-suburban fears of unruly invading black hordes who crave white women and seek Rotary Club membership.

Sharpton's response? "I've given more advice to Joe Lieberman than I've given to Ned Lamont," he told Election Central's Greg Sargent.

Last year Lieberman thought John Bolton wasn't worthy of being U.N. ambassador and voted accordingly. Yet, now that he needs Republican votes to win his do-over bid to hang on to his job, Bolton -- a "person" who has chased subordinates around a hotel trying to shoe-beat them -- has suddenly become the second coming of Adlai Stevenson or Daniel Patrick Moynihan on the international stage.

This propensity for changing positions like Angelina Jolie adopts children has been rightly covered and mocked by members of the Connecticut media and Lieberman's opponents. From support for privatizing Social Security to abortion rights, school vouchers to gay rights, there is not an issue that Lieberman won't jettison if it becomes politically expedient to do so. Yet, a few of Lieberman's more craven political maneuvers -- and their disastrous results -- have not received a full airing.

Lieberman takes pride in his reputation as an environmentalist and plays it up whenever he gets the chance. He's able to do it because the usual short-sighted single-issue groups in Washington have fallen merrily into his embrace.

In the League of Conservation Voters' March 10, 2006, endorsement of his candidacy, the League's press release stated, "As a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, Senator Lieberman has worked hard to preserve and strengthen our nation's clean air and clean water protections." Apparently they never read George W. Bush's energy bill, which Lieberman was the only Northeastern Democrat to support.

The final version removed a provision in the Senate bill requiring that a paltry 10 percent of the country's power be produced by "renewable energy" sources by 2020, or around the time Lieberman will have been receiving checks for a baker's dozen years from the Social Security system he wanted to privatize. Yet, the bill did find space for $6 billion in taxpayer subsidies for the oil and gas industry, according to the nonprofit watchdog organization Public Citizen.

When Ned Lamont, in an October 24 debate, pointed out that Lieberman's support for the flawed bill might have something to do with energy industry campaign contributions Lieberman has received, the candidate stormed up to Lamont after the debate and called him a "goddamn son of a bitch," according to blogger Matt Stoller. Not the language one might expect from such a self-described pious man.

Yet, maybe the reason Lieberman is so touchy on this subject is that a top-ten contributor of his between 2001-2006, Sempra Energy, was "cited in documents California officials submitted to the federal government last week in its price-gouging case," according to a 2003 report in the Newark Star Ledger. In fact, for its role in manipulating prices and helping create rolling blackouts in California, Sempra was sued by both San Francisco and Santa Clara Counties, and the state sought $9 billion in compensatory refunds.

If one looks through Lieberman's financial disclosure forms from his years in office, another interesting name pops up. In 1995, Lieberman took a trip to St. Louis for a dinner with Republican Sen. John Danforth to honor InterACT-St. Louis, a local faith-based group. The interesting part is who paid for his trip -- Monsanto Corp.

Now, I'm no expert, but I can say with some confidence that most "environmentalists" would want to steer clear of this company, whose genetically engineered produce has often been derisively nicknamed "frankenfood." It has a colorful history, including being a leading producer of Agent Orange for use in the Vietnam War, and dragging out a class-action lawsuit filed by the residents of Anniston, Ala., in 1976, for illegally polluting them with PCB byproducts.

The situation was so bad that if I were to alert Erin Brockovich, she'd most likely stick a boot in Joe's ass.

According to court documents, Monsanto was found guilty of "negligence, wantonness, suppression of truth, nuisance, trespass, and outrage" and hit with a $700 million decision. That last charge, "outrage," is defined under Alabama law as "conduct so outrageous in character and extreme in degree as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency so as to be regarded as atrocious and intolerable in civilized society."

Yet, perhaps nowhere is Lieberman's hypocrisy and self-serving ideology more obvious than on the issue of health care. While he routinely claims to be in favor of expanding access -- which sadly has become a luxury in our society due to the economic policies corporatized automatons like Lieberman have supported -- he hasn't walked the walk, as the Hartford Courant noted in 1994:
... He also broke with Clinton on health care. Instead of favoring universal coverage and employer mandates, Lieberman sided first with a conservative plan favored by insurance interests -- who have given heavily to his campaign. The plan would cover fewer people and require less government involvement.
More recently, Lieberman skipped town to avoid having to commit himself to President Bush's "Medicare Reform" bill, which is perhaps the stupidest law ever passed by Congress. It bans the importation of drugs from Canada, and prohibits the government from negotiating bulk discounts with prescription drug companies, all of which ensures that prices will stay artificially high so Pfizer executives can afford that extra trip to Bora Bora.

Why wouldn't a "Democrat" oppose such a giveaway? In Lieberman's case, perhaps it's because he's been a top recipient of health care and pharmaceutical money since his election to Congress. Just to look at his numbers from 2006, Lieberman's received $611,500 from "health professionals," $457,019 from "insurance" interests and $240,740 from "pharmaceuticals/health products," according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Lieberman's No. 3 and No. 4 supporters, respectively, are Purdue Pharma and Aetna.

But Joe himself hasn't been the only one in the Lieberman clan to benefit from the largesse of these bloated behemoths. In a move that no doubt had no ulterior motives, his wife, Hadassah Lieberman, was hired in early 2005 by the health and pharmaceuticals division of public relations giant Hill & Knowlton. She was given the ambiguous title of "senior counselor," and Lieberman's staff adamantly denied she was a lobbyist (she technically did not have to register as one). Yet, due to the controversy, she quit earlier this year.

According to Joe Conason, however, in a column titled "In Bed With Big Pharma," Hadassah was paid $77,000 while employed there without any evidence of her actually having done anything. And of course by pure coincidence, a client of Hill & Knowlton's, pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, benefited a month after she was hired.

In April of 2005, her husband introduced a bill into the Senate to offer billions of dollars of new "incentives" to GlaxoSmithKline and other pharmaceutical companies, to "persuade them to make more new vaccines" (apparently billions of dollars in profit don't provide quite the incentive they used to).

In other words: It's good to be a Lieberman.

It's also well-known that Lieberman played a large role in landing us in a quagmire in the Middle East, based on false justifications, with no plan for success and no exit strategy. But it's not enough to say that Lieberman supported the president's policy -- for it was just as much his policy as it was Bush's.

In 2002, along with fellow political chameleon, Republican John McCain, whose politics seem to be based on whatever will land him within arm's length of the adoring gaze of Tim Russert, Lieberman started banging the war drums by forming and co-chairing the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq. As if that allowed his goal to remain too ambiguous, in 2004, along with right-wing lunatic Sen. John Kyl of Arizona, Lieberman revived the defunct Cold War anti-Communist organization, the Committee on the Present Danger, with a new mission to defeat "Islamofascism."

Both of these organizations were filled with the usual constellation of neoconservatives who had refined their strategic bona fides with some extremely intense late-night games of Risk (much like Joe, who saw no rice paddies during the 'Nam years).

Lieberman, of course, also co-sponsored the Senate Resolution allowing the president to wage war on Iraq, and has made pronouncements about progress there over the past few years that have led many observers to question his sanity. Yet, learning nothing from his impressive degree of wrongness about everything in Iraq, Lieberman now refuses to set any timetable for withdrawal and speaks of preemptive war in Iran, presumably to be fought with a clone army of some sort.

He changed his rhetoric, however, when the polls finally pierced his bubble of denial. Knowing that an ever-increasing majority wants to get out of Iraq, he has taken to duplicity with relative ease, claiming in some debates, appearances and commercials that one of the reasons he has continued to run for the Senate is because "... I want to help end the war in Iraq." This is as likely as George Allen campaigning in the final two weeks of his Senate race wearing a Yarmulke.

Yet, most disturbing for someone so ready to send other people's children into bogus wars, is his lack of commitment to those troops once they come home. While Lieberman was once quoted by the New Yorker saying "some of my best friends are neocons," the same can't be said about veterans.

In 1997, Republican Sen. Strom Thurmond offered a motion to kill an amendment authored by Minnesota legend Paul Wellstone that would have required the secretary of defense to put $400 million into veteran's benefits the following year. Lieberman joined the Thurmond assault on veterans. He also opposed efforts to increase health care spending for veterans by $13 billion over five years in 1996 and an amendment offered by Sen. Tom Harkin to transfer $329 million from defense accounts to the Veterans Affairs Department for health care programs.

He has, however, continued to find billions of dollars to support missile defense programs that have shown as much promise as Tucker Carlson on "Dancing with the Stars."

Finally there is Joe's famous "morality." The first man in his own party to criticize Bill Clinton because his "morals" compelled him to do it, and eventually to sponsor censure for the president for his private behavior, the divorced and remarried Lieberman doesn't often walk ten steps without burping out his supposed moral righteousness. And of course when he's too busy to sing a song about his own honesty, there is always the Bush administration to step in and bloviate about Joe the Man of Rectitude. The problem is that his record doesn't comport with this image.

In 1995, Lieberman opposed a gift ban on lobbyists that might have put a dent in the activities of all the little Jack Abramoff wannabes wandering around Washington with their gelled hair and power ties. Lieberman also opposed a limit on gifts of $100, and voted against another bill in 1995 to prohibit candidates from using campaign funds for personal purposes. He also never saw an increase in congressional pay he couldn't summon the courage to get behind.

And now we have the coup de grâce. The case of the missing $387,000 in "petty cash" from Lieberman's campaign account during his primary loss to Ned Lamont, even though no more than $100 is ever supposed to be used for the kind of things petty cash usually buys. Something tells me 3,870 times that amount found its way into securing votes the old-fashioned way.

Joe first said he'd release the full details of where that cash ended up, but now he's decided he won't. The Lamont campaign has already filed a complaint with the FEC, because really, nobody should be allowed to upstage Richard Nixon when it comes to electoral sleaze.

The question that will be resolved in the coming weeks is whether Lieberman will ultimately be successful this time at selling himself as a man of consistent principle as opposed to the ideological wind surfer he actually is. Joe Lieberman might have the $387,000 answer.
Cliff Schecter, a contributor to MSNBC, is also political analyst for the Talk Radio News Service, writer for The Huffington Post and weekly guest commenator on The Young Turks on Air America. His meanderings can also be found at cliffschecter.com.
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