D. Dowd Muska


Good Riddance to ‘The Conscience of the Senate’

January 03, 2013

When 2013 gets you down, find a quiet room, close your eyes, and whisper: Joseph I. Lieberman is no longer a U.S. Senator.

As a youth, Joe developed two great loves: 1) “public service” and 2) himself. In his reality, of course, the two quickly became one. After earning undergrad and law degrees from Yale, and well before his 30th birthday, Lieberman joined the Connecticut legislature. In the 1980s, he set the standard for the hyperactive attorney generalship that plagues many states today. At 46, he finally landed in Washington, and enthusiastically took his public-nuisancing national.

To the diminutive solon, no corner of American life was immune from federal regulation, prohibition, or “incentivization.” Lieberman believed he could do a better job protecting children from offensive television programs, films, and videogames than parents. He wanted electricity to be generated at politically correct power plants. He warned his countrymen that the “lawncare-chemical problem is a ticking public-health time bomb.” He considered himself qualified to determine miles-per-gallon rates for automobiles.

But the sine qua non of Lieberman’s D.C. career was the global crusade to promote “the values of freedom and justice and opportunity,” which “are universal and eternal values … right and true not only for us in our own time, but for all people in every time.”

As was so often the case with the most odious fedpol of the last quarter-century, Lieberman’s high-horse bluster had replaced an earlier, less expedient posture. In the ‘60s, education and family deferments helped him escape Indochina’s slaughterhouse. His 1970 arms-control book, The Scorpion and the Tarantula, got its title from a historian who wrote that the U.S.-U.S.S.R. standoff was “like the case of the scorpion and the tarantula in the bottle, and we may properly feel sorry for both parties.”

A decade later, running for the U.S. House of Representatives, Lieberman had morphed into a zealous Cold Warrior. In a debate, he grilled the Communist Party’s nominee “about the Polish workers’ struggle,” asking whether it represented “a failure of communism in Eastern Europe to benefit the very people for which it presumably took power.” (Multiple terms in Connecticut’s Senate had surely prompted Lieberman’s awareness that an enormous number of “defense” dollars made their way to the submarines, helicopters, and fighter engines manufactured in the Nutmeg State.)

But 1980 brought disappointment for Democrats, and Lieberman would have to wait eight years for a trip to Washington. He rapidly compensated for lost time. Panama, Iraq, the Balkans, Afghanistan, Libya -- as writer George Szamuely put it, the senator never encountered “a United States military intervention that he was not willing to fund to the hilt or to pop on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer to defend with his usual sanctimony.”

Conservatives once hewed to the principle that militarism, in Derek’s Leebaert’s phrase, is “the idealization of a determinedly backward stage of life.” But the modern right, in the thrall of bloodlusting neocons, swooned over Lieberman’s unfailing commitment to chickenhawkery. The American Conservative Union assigns him a lifetime score of 16 -- that’s on a 0-to-100 scale -- but “The Conscience of the Senate” was habitually eager to go to war, so all was forgiven.

Besides, unlike those Democratic perverts from places like Hollywood and Manhattan, wasn’t the senator an Orthodox Jew? Not exactly. In 2000, social conservative Don Feder noted that while Lieberman “may keep kosher and observe the Sabbath, in the political realm, [he] has the same allegiance to Torah values that Ted Kennedy has to Catholicism.” (In a 2003 address, The Conscience of the Senate praised NARAL Pro-Choice America’s “principled and effective advocacy over all these years in support of American constitutional values.”)

Adherence to the moral tenets of Orthodox Judaism wasn’t a priority for the twice-married Lieberman, but he tirelessly peddled the claptrap that the U.S. cannot be safe unless the Jewish State’s enemies are vanquished. In his shilling for Israel -- a country the senator wasn’t born in, and is unlikely to immigrate to -- no tactic stooped too low. As columnist Glenn Greenwald observed in 2010, led by Lieberman, “neocons have repeatedly shown their willingness to cynically exploit extremist Christian Rapture dogma for greater American fealty towards Israeli actions.”

The Republic has been liberated from the man Chris Matthews once called “the horniest, most ambitious politician I have ever seen in my life.” It’s wonderful news in a year that promises little progress in Washington. Savor Lieberman’s departure -- and be on guard against those who aspire to his level of preening priggishness.

D. Dowd Muska (www.dowdmuska.com) writes about government, economics, and technology. Follow him on Twitter @dowdmuska.

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