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Jewish World Review / Sept 8, 1998 / 17 Elul, 5758

Roger Simon

Roger Simon Orthodox Jew Lieberman's moral outrage: Why religion matters in politics

WASHINGTON -- Russia was a bust, and Ireland was a triumph, but none of it mattered. The magic was gone.

Bill Clinton, the most masterful political performer of modern times, took his show on the road but played to an empty house: Everybody was watching the show at home.

And quite a spectacle it was.

Lieberman and Bubba: How times change.
If Clinton does go down in flames, if for some reason he does not serve out his second term, he will always be able to mark the moment things turned on him.

It was the speech Thursday by Sen. Joseph Lieberman, Democrat of Connecticut.

Lieberman has been a friend and political ally of Bill Clinton approximately forever. But Lieberman is also a moralist, the Senate's only observant Orthodox Jew, a man who severely criticized his own party for campaign-finance excesses and said: "I have a loyalty higher than just that of party. My loyalty is to the public interest."

Lieberman is just four years older than Clinton and is, like Clinton, a centrist, but they seem to live in different universes.

Lieberman's speech was masterfully written, a mixture of personal observations, stinging rebukes and quotations from presidential scholars and past presidents.

Here is Lieberman quoting Teddy Roosevelt: "My power vanishes into thin air the instant that my fellow citizens, who are straight and honest, cease to believe that I represent them and fight for what is straight and honest. That is all the strength that I have."

And here is Lieberman quoting historian James David Barber from his book "The Presidential Character," saying that the American public demands "a sense of legitimacy from and in the presidency. There is more to this than dignity, more than propriety. The president is expected to personify our betterness in an inspiring way, to express in what he does and is, not just what he says, a moral idealism which, in much of the public mind, is the very opposite of politics."

And here is Lieberman expressing his own opinion after hearing Clinton's four-minute address to the nation on Aug. 17.

"I was disappointed because the president of the United States had just confessed to engaging in an extramarital affair with a young woman in his employ and to willfully deceiving the nation about his conduct," Lieberman said from the Senate floor. "I was personally angry because President Clinton had, by his disgraceful behavior, jeopardized his administration's historic record of accomplishment, much of which grew out of the principles and programs that he and I and many others had worked on together in the New Democratic movement."

Lieberman has often placed principle over party, but he is still a loyal Democrat, and so, he called Clinton's chief of staff, Erskine Bowles, to tell him the speech was coming.

Bowles implored Lieberman to hold off until Clinton was back from his trip so that the president would not be embarrassed in front of other world leaders.

But Lieberman would not wait. He felt he had waited long enough. The president had passed up several opportunities to apologize for his actions, including one the previous day at a joint press conference with Russian President Boris Yeltsin.

It was Clinton's ego that would not let him say the words "I'm sorry" even though his aides had been urging him to do so.

And now, Bill Clinton would pay dearly for that ego.

Lieberman gave his speech, and it was like an electric current racing through the corridors of Congress. This was one attack that Clinton could not denounce as partisan politics. This was coming from his own party.

The White House now had no choice but to swallow the bitter pill.

First, it issued a statement through Deputy Press Secretary Barry Toiv: "The president has great respect for Sen. Lieberman because of the key role he has played in the president's accomplishments on behalf of the American people. It's always hardest to hear criticism from a friend. But I am sure the president will consider Sen. Lieberman's words with the same care with which they were delivered."

Aides huddled at the White House and called the president in Ireland, where he was being hailed for the crucial role he played in the Irish peace process.

He had to do it, they all agreed, the president would have to say the words he had refused to say. The president would have to say he was sorry.

So, Friday morning, at a photo opportunity with the Irish prime minister in Dublin, Clinton uttered the words.

"I've already said that I made a bad mistake, it was indefensible and I'm sorry about it," he said. "So I have nothing else to say except that I can't disagree with anyone else who wants to be critical of what I have already acknowledged was indefensible."

The next day was Saturday, and Clinton played some golf and drank in the cheers of the huge and adoring Irish crowds.

But as the light faded and the day waned, the awful truth pressed down on him like a great weight upon his shoulders.

There was no avoiding it: He would have to come home.


9/04/98: Bubbasky
8/27/98: Cigars?
8/25/98: Why it's all-Lewinsky-all-day-all-night
8/21/98: From magnifying glass to microscope
8/19/98: Let's be blunt: Bubba really needs a shrink --- and fast!
8/13/98: At home, with real, live FOBs
8/11/98: Bubba's new secret weapon: the Marine Band
8/07/98: Has the presidency been reduced to a 'Leno' joke?
8/05/98: Tell the truth?
7/30/98: All ya need is luv...and to deny, deny, deny
7/28/98: 'Man-of-da-people,' huh?
7/23/98: Can frequent-flyer miles alone earn Bubba a Nobel Prize?
7/21/98: San Francisco: not only 'gay,' but happy
7/17/98: Why Bubba claims Y2K is US' biggest problem
7/14/98: Close Amtrak --- PLEASE!
7/9/98: Flag burning is for nuts!
7/7/98: Forget about his legal defense fund, buy Bubba shirts!
7/1/98: Wall-nuts
6/26/98: Perks and the press
6/23/98: There's a good reason Bubba wants gun-control...
6/19/98: Why Clinton can get away with going to Tiananmen Square
6/16/98: Maybe Big Brother ain't so bad after all
6/11/98: He claimed responsibility for Rwanda, so why isn't Bubba stopping Serbian genocide?
6/9/98: The Internet president?
6/4/98: You can call me ‘slick;' and you can call me ‘sick;' but never call me ‘Dick' .... as in Nixon, that is
6/2/98: Being a 'talkin'-head' is hard work
5/29/98 Pay the pol, pick the policy
5/27/98 A 'loo' in London
5/21/98Buba is back from Europe ... but what did he accomplish?
5/18/98Roses for Buba
5/12/98: Just who is "Mr. Republican" these days?"
5/7/98:"Why Clinton keeeps "going and going and going""
5/1/98:"Bubba v. Tabacka"
4/29/98:"You may ask, but should they tell?"
4/24/98:"McCurry and the kids from the ‘hood "
4/23/98: "NOW" should change its name to "THEN"
4/20/98: Freedom to be a jerk?
4/14/98: Bill is Hef's kinda guy
4/7/98: South African memories --- and a paradise not yet found
3/24/98: Bill's 12-day safari
3/20/98: Peace for Ireland?
3/18/98: Flat tire? Spare me
3/13/98: Latrell Sprewell's genius
3/10/98: On truth and reality
3/5/98: No, I'm not harrassing Hillary
3/3/98: The Unforgettable Henny Youngman
2/26/98: Grow up, boys!
2/24/98: Go get 'em, Bill!
2/19/98: My 15 minutes
2/17/98: The manic-depressive presidency
2/12/98: Drip, Drip, Drip
2/10/98: Clinton tunes out the networks
2/5/98: The flight of the Beast: America's love-hate relationship with scandal
2/3/98: Speaking Clintonese
1/29/98: What the president has going for him
1/27/98: Judgment call: how Americans view President Clinton
1/22/98: Bimbo eruptions past and present
1/20/98: Feeding the beast: Paula Jones gets the full O.J.
1/15/98: Let's get it over with: it's time to deal with Saddam, already
1/13/98: Sonny Bono is dead, let the good times roll
1/8/98: Carribbean Cheesecake: First couple has cake, eats cake
1/6/98: PO'ed: a suspected druggie jumps through the employment hoops
1/1/98: Cures for that holiday hangover
12/30/97: Buy stuff now
12/25/97: Peace to all squirrelkind
12/23/97: Home for the Holidays: Where John Hinckley, never convicted, will not be
12/18/97: Bill's B-list Bacchanalia: Press and politicos get cozy, to a point
12/16/97: All dressed up... (White House flack Mike McCurry speculates on his next career)

©1998, Creators Syndicate, Inc.