by Alexander Cockburn
it's the turn of Al Gore and Joe Lieberman to be flattered by the same moist-eyed press corps that's been hailing the stultifying Republican convention in Philadelphia as a masterpiece of political stagecraft. Gore is being congratulated for pre-empting popular anger at the moral turpitude of the Clinton years. Yes, this is the same press that told us for an entire year that the American people were so furious at Bill Clinton for his conduct toward Monica Lewinsky that they wanted him to step down. Of course, poll after poll showed the American people rallying to Bill Clinton's side.
I write on the morning after the announcement of Gore's pick. Mostly, it's a day of shame for journalism. Column upon column of newsprint hails Gore's acumen in undercutting the supposed "moral edge" in public esteem now held by the Republicans. Beyond anecdotal assessment, no evidence for this edge is advanced. Column upon column dwells upon Lieberman's powers of ethical discrimination, symbolized by his observance of the Sabbath and his criticisms of Bill Clinton.
It's certainly proper to exult in a decline in prejudice, at least to the point that Gore's pollsters advised the notoriously cautious vice president that it is a reasonable bet to pick a Jew as his running mate. But is the public not also entitled to learn something about Lieberman the Democratic politician?
In 1988, incumbent Sen. Lowell Weicker, a maverick liberal Republican, was up for re-election, and his Democratic challenger was State Attorney General Joe Lieberman. Lieberman ran against Weicker from the right. Conservative guru William F. Buckley (a Connecticut resident) endorsed Lieberman, and stumped to get out the right-wing vote for him. So did most of the Republicans in the Connecticut legislature. One telling moment of the campaign was a televised debate in which Lieberman attacked Weicker for the latter's support for lifting the embargo and reopening diplomatic relations with Cuba. Lieberman said to Weicker, "You're closer to Fidel Castro than you are to Ronald Reagan." With the Reaganite vote and the votes of most Democrats, Lieberman easily won the election.
Connecticut is well known for its hospitality to the insurance, aerospace and arms industries. Few press accounts have evoked Lieberman's obsequiousness to these corporate powers that underwrite his campaigns. The insurance industry didn't like the Clinton health plan of 1993, and neither did Lieberman. The insurance industry wanted limits set on damages in product liability suits. Lieberman was one of only four Democratic senators to agree.
Potent in the political economy of Connecticut are Pratt & Whitney, United Technologies and Sikorsky. Sen. Lieberman has duly been a mighty promoter of the Black Hawk Helicopter, the Comanche, the Joint Strike Fighter, the F-22, the C-17 transport and the nuclear subs necessary to beat off the armadas of North Korea. He's similarly been a fierce supporter of NATO expansion in eastern Europe, meaning that Poland, Hungary and Czechslovakia have to buy arms from these same corporations, with Uncle Sam guaranteeing the tab.
This record will presumably increase the appeal of Ralph Nader's independent candidacy to progressives, but even this political consequence has not been regarded as pertinent by most of my colleagues in the press, who are now preparing to fly west to Los Angeles and prepare the public for the traditional "speech of his life" from Al Gore.
There hasn't actually been a decent speech by a presidential candidate at a major convention since William Jennings Bryan delivered his Cross of Gold finale to the Democrats in 1896. Given the hokum level endemic to our political process, how could there be? But that doesn't impede the "hit-it-out-of-the-park" ritual deployed in the press every four years. Pundits who lauded Dole as Demosthenes in 1996 have been describing George W. Bush's address in Philadelphia as one of the best crafted homilies in the annals of human communication. Where I remember someone closely resembling a tailor's dummy squinting tensely into the cameras and babbling phrases that would have embarrassed a high school debating team, they hailed a statesman with the political dignity of Charlemagne and the warmth of Danny Kaye. Next it will be Al Gore's turn, and it's a fair bet he will be congratulated for "hitting it out of the park."
The Republicans are actually being praised for their repulsively patronizing "black night" in Philadelphia. If they have any sense, the Democrats will turn the tables and present their party as the true home of white suburban couples earning more than $200,000 a year, and the Republican Party as the sanctuary of the "special interests," aka welfare mothers and hip hop artists. Maybe that's the meaning of the Lieberman pick, unless it's a cynical effort to rally anti-Semites into the polling booths to vote for Pat Buchanan, thus, undercutting the Bush vote.
August 12, 2000 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.
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