Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Lieberman’s Leave-Taking

Like U.S. Senator Chris Dodd before him, U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman soon will be leaving the congress with 23 years of service under his belt. Following his leave-taking, Mr. Dodd fell on a plush Hollywood featherbed. Mr. Lieberman’s future is a question mark. His bitterest critics – they are legion – suppose he will worm his way into a lobbyist position in Washington because, as Willy Sutton said when asked why he robbed banks, that’s where the money is. Like Senator Dick Blumenthal, who stepped into Mr. Dodd’s congressional shoes, Mr. Lieberman is Jewish, and when his most hot-headed critics wish to strike a death blow, they revert to stereotypical insults: Jews are motivated by money alone; Lieberman’s principal loyalty lies with beleaguered Israel rather than the United States, that sort of thing. Apart from racism, the two oldest and most perduring prejudices in the United States are anti-Semitism and anti-Catholicism, both of which still have lots of wind in their sails.

When Mr. Lieberman appeared recently before the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce in Cromwell, “goodbye” was in his voice. No one, perhaps not even Mr. Lieberman himself, has been keeping count over the years of his public appearances. Like his critics within the progressive wing of his former Democratic Party, they are legion, though likely falling short of those of Mr. Blumenthal, about whom it has been said there is no more dangerous spot in the state than that between Mr. Blumenthal and a television camera. Mr. Blumenthal attended the Cromwell event as a sort of legacy pallbearer: Mr. Lieberman’s legacy in Connecticut politics and his own, Mr. Blumenthal said, had been intertwined.

Mr. Lieberman is no stranger to political roughhouse. He feels about the condition of the Congress pretty much the same way William Butler Yeats felt about the world following the advent of World War I, when the future provided only glimpse, seen darkly as through a glass, of coming years:  

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Of course, what followed the First World War was the Second World War, the Cold War, during which Stalin, “Breaker of Nations”, brought into the Soviet maw much of what used to be considered Europe, the rise to world eminence of communist China,  now Europe’s banker, the resurgence of salafist jihadism (السلفية الجهادية) in Arabia, the improbable rise of Iran as a nuclearized power center in the Middle East, the imperiling of Israel by its enemies, who are legion, the near bankruptcy of the United States under the weight of its social obligations, the flat-lining of Europe under the weight of its social obligations, and the “melancholy, long, withdrawing roar” of Mathew Arnold’s “sea of faith.”

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Mr. Lieberman is familiar with the sea of faith, as are most Jews, Catholics and African Americans who, thank you very much, cannot easily forget the sharp edges of their past.

The media was on hand to leave behind a record of Mr. Lieberman’s appearance in Cromwell. And what was paramount in its mind? Whether the world will survive the melancholy, long withdrawing roar of the sea of faith, now no more than a breath of the night-wind? Whether the ceremony of innocence has sunk permanently beneath the waves? Whether the Western center will hold?

Not a bit of it. They wanted to know whether Mr. Lieberman would endorse the Democratic nominee for the U.S. Congress, Chris Murphy.

Mr. Lieberman said, with what one must suppose was a suppressed sigh, that endorsements were not much on his mind.

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