Sunday, November 08, 2009

Defending Lieberman

Judging from what George Jepsen, a Hartford lawyer and former chairman of the state Democratic Party, might call the preponderance of evidence, it is an easy and painless matter to assault Sen. Joe Lieberman in print.

This happens frequently, most recently when the Hartford Courant – whose writers are not, shall we say, friendly to Lieberman – opened its pages to yet another assault, this time by Jepsen.

The Jepsen piece in the Courant, “Whatever Lieberman Is, It Isn't Loyal ,” published in Sunday’s paper so as to expose it to more eyes, follows a piece written by Bill Curry in a previous Sunday paper pouring ashes upon the head of Lieberman for having “vowed to support a Republican filibuster of any health care bill containing the dreaded ‘public option.’”

Both Curry and Jepsen are heavy hitters in the party, outspoken partisan spokesmen. They are both tied by bonds of affection to their party and are honorable men. However, if I had to choose one to have a cup of latte with, I would pick Curry as the more elegant writer and entertaining chatterer.

Lieberman’s name was bound to come up in recent published reports in connection with an announcement by liberal heart throb Ned Lamont that he intended to put together an exploratory committee to advise him on a gubernatorial run.

In a Rick Green column, Lieberman is mentioned twice, not fatally or venomously. Green wondered whether Ned Lamont, who successfully ran a primary against Lieberman, had a second act in his repertoire, now that he has thrown his hat “near the gubernatorial ring,” as one reporter wittily put it.

If the Jepsen piece in the Courant is confusing on moral imperatives, it may be because it was craftily designed to confuse.

Mr. Jepsen writes that “He (Lieberman) exalted morality over personal loyalty in excoriating President Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, yet demanded personal loyalty from Connecticut Democrats in 2006 who opposed the Iraq war on moral grounds.”

There is a tangle of confusion here, and it should not take a lawyer to unravel it.

Mr. Jepsen cannot plausibly deny that the Clinton/Monica Lewinsky scandal was a scandal. Even ex-president Clinton, after he found it impossible to deny that he did not “know that woman, Lewinsky,” readily admitted he had caused a scandal.

It was in all the papers at the time, the flames being fanned by partisan Republicans.

It is true that Lieberman reproved the president on moral grounds, and following Lieberman reproach, the better angels of Clinton’s nature caused him to put forward an implicit apology, both to the nation and more importantly to his storm tossed wife.

Surely, the former Chairman of the state’s Democratic Party would not wish to place morality BELOW what he calls loyalty to the party. Loyalty to the Democratic Party during the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal did not require men of conscience to bite their tongues when confronted by the unsavory facts. Even Mrs. Clinton, way down the road, expressed exasperation at her husband.

There is some indication in the Jepsen piece that Mr. Jepsen is asserting Lieberman thought or said that Democrats who opposed the war in Iraq ought to have put aside their moral objection to the war to support him -- because failing to do so would have indicated a lack of loyalty… to his party?

It is doubtful that Lieberman, especially since he disagreed at the time with others in his party on the point of the Iraq war, would have made the mistake of conflating himself and his party.

While the Watergate scandal was unfolding, a delegation of prominent Republican visited then President Richard Nixon and urged him to resign his office. Barry Goldwater, later to run on the Republican ticket for president, was one of the delegates. Would Mr. Jepsen assert that Goldwater’s act was disloyal to the Republican Party? That assertion may hold water, it seems to me, only if one conflates Nixon with the Republican Party.

Mr. Jepsen’s point, if he ever had a point, is confusing.

Lieberman addressed the Clinton/Lewinski scandal in a book published in 2000 called “In Praise of Public life.”

In it, he described with great disdain the features of public spectacles. It was not surprising, he wrote, that many young people had become disenchanted with politics after scandals such as Watergate and Iran-Contra. This is what he wrote about the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal:

“That is not surprising when you think about the sordid spectacle that culminated in the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton, the partisan bickering and bloodletting unleashed through that national crisis, the aura of zealous pursuit infecting the independent council’s investigation, the media’s seemingly unquenchable thirst for scandal, the assent of a character like Larry Flint as a moral arbiter and influence on this momentous process. In the wake of such a gaudy and demeaning saga at what is supposed to be the highest, most dignified level of our society, is it any wonder that Americans by the millions simply turned away in disappointment and disgust?”

It is plain from this description that Lieberman was not solely absorbed by the delinquencies – one might almost say the juvenile delinquencies – of the president. He was concerned, as a matter if principle, with the moral retrogression of the culture.

We all have different memories of these things. My recollection is that Lieberman’s reproof help to forestall an impeachment inquiry then underway. This certainly would have been a service to both Clinton and The Democratic Party.

Curry’s objections to Lieberman are sounder; and yet even he, a superb moralist, tends to forget in his criticism that it was the left wing of Curry’s party -- allied with former Republican Sen. Lowell Weicker and Tom D’Amore, implacable enemies of their bete noir -- that gave Lieberman the boot. After having been dumped from the party he had served with some distinction, Lieberman defended his seat in a general election against Lamont as an independent – and won. His victory, such as it was, caused a seismic disturbance in the Democratic Force that continues to rattle some brains within the party even now.

But really, if one is drummed out of the party, the unceremonious ejection frees one from some forms of a servile loyalty that even Curry would not wish to respect. If Curry doubts it, he might want to have a chat with that principled paragon of party independence, Republican maverick Lowell Weicker, some of whose agents are now assisting Lamont in his gubernatorial bid .

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