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Lieberman's Loser 'Bipartisanship'

By Robert Parry
August 9, 2006

Sen. Joe Lieberman lost the Democratic primary in Connecticut not only because of his undying support for the disastrous Iraq War – and not just because of his hostility toward Democrats who object to George W. Bush’s heavy-handed policies in the Middle East.

Lieberman lost to political newcomer Ned Lamont because Lieberman has become an extreme example of a Democrat who puts getting respect from Washington’s pundit class over everything, even over principles and causes that most Democrats hold dear – from a functioning democracy to the environment.

Lieberman would rather be welcomed onto Fox News Sunday or banter with radio talk-show host Imus than be known as a hard-nosed fighter against global warming or for electoral reform. In his hunger for the respect of the insider class, he displays the conceit of a man who presents himself as above politics but is not above self-aggrandizement.

Lieberman’s post-defeat statement – that he will run as an independent because he views Lamont’s victory as a turn toward overt partisanship – summed up what many rank-and-file Democrats dislike about Lieberman.

“The old politics of partisan polarization won today,” Lieberman told supporters. “For the sake of our state, our country and my party, I cannot, I will not let this result stand.”

Yet, Lieberman only seems to object to partisanship when it is displayed by Democrats.

GOP Partisanship

Time and time again, Lieberman has tolerated aggressive partisanship from Republican strategists like Karl Rove or from right-wing pundits such as Sean Hannity – even when they denounce Democrats as unpatriotic, un-American or treasonous.

Despite the insults that right-wing pundits have hurled at Democrats and liberals, Lieberman still relishes his appearances on Fox News – where he has hailed Hannity as a personal friend – and on any number of other national pundit shows.

Lieberman comes across as a politician obsessed with maintaining his place as a respectable “adult” at the Washington insiders’ table rather than someone who fights for issues, including the environment, that he professes to hold dear.

Although Bush has undercut environmental protections and has denied the dangers of global warming, Lieberman has basked in his cozy relationship with the President – sealed with a peck on the cheek from Bush at the State of the Union speech.

Even in 2000, when Al Gore picked Lieberman as his Democratic running mate, Lieberman resisted playing the traditional hard-hitting role that effective vice-presidential candidates perform.

Rather than blunting attacks on Gore or delivering body blows to Bush, Lieberman kept his eye on maintaining the respect of Washington insiders.

Many Democrats unhappily recall Lieberman’s gentlemanly debate with his Republican rival Dick Cheney. Instead of arguing that it was unthinkable to put ne’er-do-well George W. Bush in the White House, a jovial Lieberman acted like it didn’t matter much which presidential candidate won.

Cheney Hypocrisy

Lieberman also didn’t follow up on Cheney’s obvious debate lie that he had amassed his personal fortune as head of oil-supply giant Halliburton Co. without any help from the government. “The government had absolutely nothing to do with it,” Cheney told a smiling Lieberman.

Lieberman stayed silent then and later, even as Cheney went on the offensive against Gore for supposedly puffing up his résumé.

“He [Gore] seems to have a compulsion to embellish his arguments or … his résumé,” Cheney said on Oct. 6, 2000. “He seems to have this uncontrollable desire periodically to add to his reputation, to his record, things that aren’t true. That’s worrisome and I think it’s appropriate for us to point that out.”

While Cheney savaged Gore, Lieberman was satisfied to accept the kudos from Washington insiders about the maturity of his polite debate performance.

Not surprisingly, the big newspapers and the major television networks also offered no challenge to Cheney’s comment about his self-made wealth. Bloomberg News, a business wire, was one of the few outlets that took note of the variance between Cheney’s assessment and the facts.

“Cheney’s reply left out how closely … Halliburton’s fortunes are linked to the U.S. government,” Bloomberg News said.

Bloomberg News noted that Halliburton was a leading defense contractor (with $1.8 billion in contracts from 1996-99) and a major beneficiary of federal loan guarantees (another $1.8 billion in loans and loan guarantees from the U.S.-funded Export-Import Bank during Cheney’s years).

The article also cited internal Ex-Im Bank e-mails showing that Cheney personally lobbied bank chairman James Harmon for a $500 million loan guarantee for Russia’s OAO Tyumen Oil Co. The Ex-Im loan guarantee, approved in March 2000, helped finance Halliburton’s contract with Tyumen.

In further contradiction of Cheney’s self-made-man claim, Cheney gave a speech to the Ex-Im Bank in 1997 in which he said:

“I see that we have in recent years been involved in projects in the following (countries) supported, in part, through Ex-Im activities: Algeria, Angola, Colombia, the Philippines, Russia, the Czech Republic, Thailand, China, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Kuwait, India, Kenya, the Congo, Brazil, Argentina, Trinidad and Tobago, Venezuela, Indonesia, Malaysia and Mexico. … Export financing agencies are a key element in making this possible, helping U.S. businesses blend private sector resources with the full faith and credit of the U.S. government.” [Bloomberg News, Oct. 6, 2000]

So, in Cheney’s own words in 1997, U.S. government loan guarantees had been “a key element in making” Halliburton’s worldwide operations “possible.” Three years later, however, Cheney insisted that “the government had absolutely nothing to do with” his business success.

Yet, fresh from this false pronouncement about his self-reliance, Cheney took the offensive denouncing Gore for alleged exaggerations about his own history.

Normally, hypocrisy is considered a big story, especially when the accuser’s behavior is more egregious than the actions of his target. Yet, Cheney’s own résumé polishing was barely mentioned in the major news media. Nor was it contested by Lieberman, the logical person to challenge Cheney’s lie that was made to Lieberman’s face.

Sitting Back

But that was not Joe Lieberman’s style. He chose to sit back and watch Cheney mock and insult Gore.

In other words, when Bush and Cheney have operated with the utmost partisanship against Democrats, Lieberman objects little or none. He may have gone along with the unfair ridicule heaped on Gore, in part, because virtually every major national pundit also was piling on against the Democratic standard-bearer.

However, when Democrats have tried to fight back – even on issues of principle like the Iraq War and Bush’s expansive assertion of executive powers – Lieberman is energized to denounce this political activism in the harshest terms.

Suddenly, Lieberman is deeply distressed by “the old politics of partisan polarization,” so much so that he feels compelled to reject the judgment of the Democratic voters of Connecticut and run against the party’s nominee.

Almost certainly, Lieberman can continue to count on the admiration of Washington’s consultant class who will praise Lieberman for having the “courage” to stand with President Bush.


Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at Amazon.com, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth.'

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