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Jewish World Review July 22, 2003 / 22 Tamuz, 5763

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Joe Lieberman, genius | It pains me to do this, but I am forced to give Joe Lieberman my Dumb and Dumber Award for pulling off two bonehead plays in a single month.

Joe Lieberman is the one serious candidate for president who was really active in the civil rights movement while growing up. More than active. He risked his life for the cause. While other candidates were comfortably ensconced in school, Lieberman went to Mississippi to register black voters at a time when this was seriously dangerous.

And it did not go unappreciated. In August 2000, when he was a vice presidential candidate, Lieberman spoke at a black church in Detroit. According to the AP account: "Before Lieberman took to the pulpit, the Rev. Wendell Anthony, pastor of the chapel and president of the largest chapter of the NAACP in the country, recalled for worshippers how Lieberman in the 1960s had marched on Washington with Martin Luther King Jr. and went into Mississippi to register black voters. And he criticized Republican rivals George W. Bush and Dick Cheney in the process.

"'It does mean something,' said Anthony, shouting in a lyrical cadence, 'for I ain't read nothing about no Bushes in Mississippi. ... I ain't seen no Cheneys on no freedom buses.'"

To the congregation, Lieberman recounted "how he had spoken at a civil rights rally in Bridgeport, Conn., in the 1960s just before King, and that the civil rights leader had remarked, 'Very good, young man.'

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"'I had actually thought I heard the voice of Moses,' Lieberman said."

Not a bad platform from which to seek black support in 2004, right? I mean, considering no other candidate has anything approaching a lock on the black vote.

So what does Lieberman do? He stiffs the NAACP by not showing up at its annual convention in Florida this week, and the NAACP leadership is now furious.

Sure, the NAACP was flexing its muscles and showing its clout by demanding the candidates show up. This is what interest groups do.

But why does Lieberman stiff an interest group that, a) is extremely powerful in the Democratic Party, and, b) one with which he might have an advantage?

True, two other Democratic candidates also stiffed the NAACP: Dick Gephardt said he had a family commitment, and Dennis Kucinich said he had vowed not to miss any votes in the House of Representatives. (President Bush did not show up, either.)

What did he, Lieberman, do instead of going to the NAACP? He spent part of the day taping Bill O'Reilly's TV show.

One can only guess at how the Lieberman Brain Trust came to this keenly astute political decision.

First Genius Staffer: "Do we want Joe on a TV show with a right-wing Republican audience that would not vote for him over George Bush in a million years, or do we want him in front of thousands of black voters?"

Second Genius Staffer: "Hmmm, let me think. Maybe we ought to take a poll to find out. Drag some money out of the safe, and get one going."

Third Genius Staffer: "No time. Let's go with TV. I read somewhere lots of people watch TV."

During this campaign, Lieberman has had to miss a number of political events that were (rudely) scheduled for the Jewish Sabbath on Saturdays, but the NAACP event was on a Monday. And Lieberman still doesn't show up!

His campaign now recognizes this was a mistake, and Jano Cabrera, Lieberman's spokesman, said, "Our hope is to mend relations and reach out to the NAACP to work together in the future."

An excellent plan. If there is a future.

What could be dumber than this? Well, putting your kids on your campaign payroll at salaries so big that other staffers get enraged and complain to the press. That could be dumber.

Lieberman's son Matt and daughter Rebecca are on the Lieberman campaign payroll as fund-raisers, each making six-figure annual salaries. According to Forward magazine, "Some (staffers) grumbled that, given their eye-popping salaries, the Lieberman children were not pulling their weight as fund-raisers."

Hiring your own children at fat salaries is not illegal. But I know I have never heard Joe Lieberman give a speech that went, "Please give to my campaign so I can keep our military and our homeland security strong, return to the fiscally balanced, pro-growth, pro-middle class fiscal policies of the Clinton-Gore years and line the pockets of my kids with dough."

Gephardt has a daughter working for his campaign at $3,500 a month, which apparently is not enough to anger anybody. But Howard Dean's teenage daughter is doing something really old-fashioned: She is volunteering in her father's campaign, which means she is getting paid nothing. Presumably, she is doing this because she thinks her dad would make a fine president, and that is motivation enough. What a crazy thought. Do you think it could catch on?

The Lieberman kids have now agreed to take 20 percent pay cuts. Which leaves only 80 percent to go.

I doubt Joe Lieberman has a dishonest bone in his entire body. But he is supposed to be the candidate of higher values.

And, last I looked, nepotism was not a higher value.

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