By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
|Illustration by Ismael Roldan|
As Joe Lieberman spoke at Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH forum for presidential contenders last month, the overwhelmingly black audience clapped when he quoted Martin Luther King Jr. Yet how many would have applauded if they’d known that the candidate from the Nutmeg State was a fan of the author of The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life, which promoted the junk-science-for-bigots theory that blacks are genetically inferior to whites? How many realized that he had declared affirmative action to be “un-American,” called on the Democrats to abandon it and supported a California ballot initiative to ban it — all of which once caused the Rev. Jesse Jackson to travel to New Haven for a rally to denounce “Jesse Helms–Lieberman deals”? “We submit to the senator of this state,” Jackson roared in 1995, “that we have marched too long, and have died too young. We have been to too many funerals to turn back now! No, Mr. Lieberman, we are moving forward!” As recently as 1998, Lieberman’s Senate voting was so bad that the NAACP gave him a “D” rating on its report card.
This is just part of the record that Lieberman now tries to run away from. Most of the mainstream press corps keeps presenting a sanitized version of Lieberman’s bio, but some of the things he’d rather forget are well worth remembering now that he’s a national candidate.
On March 9, 1995, in remarks at the National Press Club, as chairman of the pro-corporate Democratic Leadership Council, Lieberman denounced the case for affirmative action as “an un-American argument because it’s based on averages, not individuals,” and went on to praise Ward Connerly’s Proposition 209, the misnamed “California Civil Rights Initiative,” which outlawed affirmative action: “I can’t see how I could be opposed to it, because it basically is a statement of American values.” The year before, the New Haven Advocate’s excellent Paul Bass — who’s covered Lieberman for 22 years — wrote, “After meeting with racist scholar [and Bell Curveauthor] Charles Murray, Lieberman promoted Murray’s idea of taking children away from mothers on welfare and putting them in new government-run orphanages (rather than, for instance, boosting support for agencies seeking to keep together families in crisis).”
Lieberman didn’t always talk that way — he started out in politics as a supporter of Robert F. Kennedy and an opponent of the Vietnam War. When he represented a half–African-American New Haven district in the state Senate, he paraded himself as a liberal friend to the poor. What changed?
Ambition, pure and simple. In the Reagan-landslide year of 1980, Lieberman ran for Congress — and lost to a GOPer who cut Lieberman’s 17-point lead in the polls by attacking him as “too liberal.” “After he lost, Joe was advised by party stalwarts he couldn’t continue to be a progressive across the board if he wanted to move up,” recalls Irv Stolberg, the liberal former speaker of the Connecticut House, and later the founder of the state’s progressive Caucus of Concerned Democrats. It’s hardly surprising that Lieberman listened to the party bosses: His undergraduate thesis — published in 1966 as a book, The Power Broker— was a hagiography of the tough and cynical John Bailey, Connecticut’s legendary ham-fisted Democratic boss, whose creed was “You do whatever you have to do to win.”
Take the 1988 campaign in which Lieberman won a U.S. Senate seat by defeating liberal GOPer Lowell Weicker. In that campaign, Lieberman attacked Weicker — who espoused views Lieberman once held — from the right. He was so conservative in that race that William F. Buckley Jr., founder of the conservative National Reviewand a Connecticut native, formed a political action committee to raise money for Lieberman. For example, Lieberman redbaited Weicker for opposing the trade embargo against Cuba (and, then as later, raked in significant campaign cash from ultraright Cuban exiles).
As a senator, Lieberman continued his path to the right. For example, Lieberman has a long record of political homophobia. Lieberman, who told the New Haven Advocatethat “homosexuality is wrong,” joined with notorious homo-hater Jesse Helms in voting to take away federal funding from schools that counsel suicidal gay teens that it’s okay to be gay. On gays in the military, Lieberman has enunciated the now-discredited canard that “homosexual conduct can harm unit cohesion and effectiveness.” (Tell that to the dozens of countries, from England to Israel, that permit openly gay troops in their armed forces.)
In fact, Lieberman worked with Georgia’s Sam Nunn to fashion the destructive “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which resulted in escalating expulsions of gays from the military every year after it took effect. Its Catch-22 provisions have directly stimulated a rising wave of violent gay bashing and harassment in the military because victims can’t complain without “telling.”
This is just part of the record that has made Lieberman his party’s most notorious theocrat. The Scripture-quoting Lieberman made God-bothering a staple of his 2000 vice-presidential campaign: That August, Holy Joe told a Detroit congregation never to imagine “that morality can be maintained without religion.” This position was denounced as “unsettling” by no less than the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai Brith (ADL), which released a letter to him arguing tartly that “To even suggest that one cannot be a moral person without being a religious person is an affront to many highly ethical citizens.”