Jewish World Review August 24, 2000 / 23 Menachem-Av, 5760
Lieberman likes to note, these days, that he has never been as far out of the mainstream of the Democratic Party as some people think, that he has always, in fact, been a good liberal. And this is on the whole true enough. Lieberman's Senate voting record has won him high marks from liberal groups and low marks from conservative groups. Nevertheless, there was a difference between Lieberman and the average party hack, and this difference was one that Lieberman cultivated and celebrated.
The difference was not that Lieberman was conservative; it was that he was, supposedly, independent--this demonstrated by his repeated willingness to take positions that important constituent groups in the Democratic Party strongly opposed.
Yes, there were only a handful of issues on which Lieberman broke with the pack. But these issues--affirmative action, school vouchers, Social Security, Clinton scandals, tort reform--were the core issues that defined what it meant to be a New Democrat. It meant, precisely, standing up to the party's controlling special interests on these litmus tests. Without this, there is no true New Democrat position. It is not an exaggeration to say that the rise of the New Democrats and the rise of Lieberman--and these are nearly synonymous--rest on this handful of stand-up moments.
Well, the Democrats' stand-up guy stands no more. Recently Lieberman, the man with the iron backbone, has become Lieberman, the human pretzel, performing, now in the big top, every day, Amazing! Stupendous! Truth-defying! Acts of Contortion, as he erases the man he was and morphs into whatever it is that the people who pull the levers in the party want him to be. A few examples:
On privatizing Social Security by allowing workers to invest some portion of their taxes in the stock market, Lieberman had this to say in a 1998 interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune: "I would support that. . . . We now have decades-long history of an average 10 percent return on stocks. . . . So, yes, I would support it. . . . It doesn't make sense anymore not to do that with this enormous investment pool that we're supposed to have for Social Security. . . . I think in the end that individual control of part of the retirement/Social Security funds has got to happen."
In an interview on Aug. 8 with Larry King, Lieberman maintained that it was "not true" that he had ever favored privatization of Social Security; he had merely been "intrigued" by the idea. In remarks to AFL-CIO members in Connecticut, Lieberman attacked George W. Bush for proposing to "savage" Social Security with "a privatization scheme that would take $1 trillion out of the nest egg that belongs to every worker in America and jeopardize the program's stability and the security of the working future of the American people."
On affirmative action, Lieberman has a clear record of opposition to group preferences. In 1995, Lieberman issued a statement declaring that "many affirmative action programs must change because they are inconsistent with the law and the basic American value of equal treatment and opportunity." That year Lieberman said, "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 supported Ward Connerly's Proposition 209 to abolish state-funded racial group preference programs in California. "I can't see how I could be opposed to it," he said. "It basically is a statement of American values . . . and says we shouldn't discriminate in favor of somebody based on the group they represent."
On the first day of the convention, in his first planned appearance, Lieberman told the Democratic National Committee's black caucus that "there's been misunderstanding" of his opposition to affirmative action. He said: "I have supported affirmative action, I do support affirmative action and I will support affirmative action."
The old Joe Lieberman was a strong supporter of school voucher programs, anathema to the teachers' unions. "The undeniable reality is that this system is already in ruins and to blindly reject new models and refuse to try new ideas is simply foolish," argued Lieberman in a written statement in Congress on April 17, 1997. The new Flex-O-Joe assured the black caucus that "the main support that I've always given has been to the public schools," although he conceded that he had "supported some demonstration programs for vouchers," making his prior position sound like a youthful experiment with drugs.
Well, goodbye to all that. Joe, it turns out we hardly knew
08/17/00: The Joyful Clinton Nation