Lieberman Selection Moves Democrats to Right
Lieberman Selection Moves Democrats Further to Right
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THE LINES Q&A
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For release Aug. 14, 2000
Selection of Sen. Lieberman for Gore's Running Mate Moves Democrats Further to Right
* A New Haven, Conn. newspaper editor in Joseph Lieberman's city of residence describes how the senator has been influential in setting a conservative Democratic Party agenda.
Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore's selection of Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman as his running mate was a surprise to many political observers and was characterized as a bold move on the part of the vice president who has been trailing George W. Bush in recent polls.
An unknown in most of the nation, Sen. Lieberman has been called a maverick by some pundits and is probably best known for his early criticism of President Clinton's conduct in the Lewinsky affair. Politically, Lieberman, the first Jewish vice presidential nominee in U.S. history, is a conservative Democrat who often finds himself siding with his Republican colleagues.
While Sen. Lieberman has a record of supporting consumer, environmental laws and a woman's right to choose, he has been hostile to gay rights and voted to support most recent military adventures abroad and increases in Pentagon spending. Lieberman, an advocate of the death penalty and school vouchers, is also an ally of former GOP Secretary of Education William Bennett who has campaigned against sex and violence in popular entertainment.
Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Paul Bass, associate editor of the New Haven Advocate newspaper, who as a reporter has followed Lieberman's career for some 20 years. He assesses the record of Joseph Lieberman and how his selection may effect the vice president's bid for the White House.
Paul Bass: Joe Lieberman was one of the first Democrats to understand that his political future lay in steering the Democrat Party into becoming a "lite" version of the Republican party. He came to Washington under George Bush after being elected in 1988 and he immediately became the Democrat who would side with the Republicans on swing issues, the kind of issues that excite the Right. For example, on (the appointment of Supreme Court Justice) Clarence Thomas, they were counting on Lieberman's vote. He went middle of the road on abortion. He ran to the right of Republican Connecticut Senator Lowell Weicker Jr. when he (challenged) him in 1988, by coming out for more military spending, more foreign intervention, assassinating foreign leaders. He's "tough on crime and drugs." He's down on gay rights and affirmative action. He's for prayer in the schools and for corporate welfare.
These issues define him in the kind of way where he's the guy whose vote mattered in the end. You'd look to Joe Lieberman to see whether certain bills would pass. He became incredibly influential fast. And he chose his issues in a way that he would appeal to the right.
Overall, he has a very centrist Democratic voting record. He's been pro-consumer and has a decent environmental voting record. Actually, he had a 100 percent record on the NAACP score card last year. So he knows how to cast the votes that keep different constituencies pleased. As a result, there was a recent poll that showed Lieberman had the highest approval rating of any public official in the tri-state region, not just Connecticut, but New Jersey and New York as well.
He is a genuinely nice guy in a system where politics is so dirty, so corrupt, so cynical. Here's a guy who has really has not cashed in, in the way Dick Cheney cashed in on his position. Cheney, who's running for vice president on the Republican ticket, fought the Gulf War as defense secretary and then worked for an oil company and used those contacts to enrich himself.
Lieberman really hasn't done that. Today in politics, to ascend, you almost have to have nothing that interesting in your life as well as nothing dirty and he's kind of kept that image up. So I think he was a very smart choice for Gore.
Between The Lines: In terms of some of the tactics and strategic issues that Gore has to be concerned with, there seems to be an erosion of the Democratic party base with many important unions taking a second look at the Gore ticket. Many think Gore actually has more in common with the Republicans than the Democratic party on some of the more important issues to union members. People who are on the fence, might they not just see the selection of Joe Lieberman as a kick in the teeth and move to support Green Party candidate Ralph Nader?
Paul Bass: I wish that were true. People who think that way, like me for instance, and would never vote for (Gore-Lieberman) have already made that decision. Al Gore is a centrist, a somewhat right-wing Democrat. I do think there's a significant sector of the grassroots labor movement and a few individual unions like the steelworkers who are so mad about Gore's role in selling out labor with some of the international trade treaties, for instance, that they are flirting with Ralph Nader's candidacy. Some of them will definitely vote for Nader.
Gore has clearly made the calculation that he will so scare any kind of progressive constituency about the prospect of Bush getting the White House, that he can take that vote for granted, and that what he has to fight for is the middle to the right of the electorate.
Between The Lines: If Gore and Lieberman should win a tight race come November, would this not teach a lesson to the New Democrats, the right-wing of the party, that you can successfully and profitably ignore the left in the Democratic party?
Paul Bass: I think that lesson has already been proved. I think that is why Gore has been as much as 17 points down in the polls. He hasn't caught fire and the reason he hasn't caught fire is he's not standing for anything. And the reason he's not standing for anything, because like a lot of these Democrats, they're running away from saying what they believe.
But that's why I think the Joe factor is tricky. Because I'm not convinced that he's going to hurt him any more with those constituencies. The fact that he does believe in something is somewhat of a valuable commodity in American politics right now.
But I do think that the strategy will fail long term; there's no question that people are alienated from the political process at historic levels. They feel that way because of the cynical gambit where both parties pander to the wealthiest interests in the country, and ignore the voices of everyday Americans, the majority of American citizens.
So yes, I do think that ultimately it's a failed strategy. They don't think long term. They're thinking election by election, four years' worth of patronage.
To contact Paul Bass at New Haven Advocate call (203) 789-0010 or visit their Web site at: www.newhavenadvocate.com
Scott Harris is WPKN Radio's public affairs director and executive producer of Between The Lines. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly newsmagazine, Between The Lines, for the week ending Aug. 18, 2000.
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Between The Lines Q&A is compiled and edited by Anna Manzo. To get details on subscribing to the radio program or to publish this column in print or online media, contact us at (203)544-9863 or email@example.com.
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