Home / General / The Ballad of Buckley’s Blowhard

The Ballad of Buckley’s Blowhard

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9/22/03–MANCHESTER,NH– Sean (cq) Downey (cq) Candidate Advance for Joe Lieberman, gets out of the “Joe Mobile” he drives around the state. Library Tag 10192003 National/Foreign – The Primary Source

Holy Joe Lieberman has died.

Born in 1942 in Stamford, Connecticut, Lieberman was the future blowhard of all blowhards. Lieberman’s father ran a liquor store and I’m surprised he didn’t later moralistically criticize this. He attended Yale and graduated with a B.A. in political science and economics in 1964. He then got a law degree from Yale in 1967. Yale is really responsible for so much. Like most other future lovers of war, Lieberman found ways out of fighting in Vietnam, first through educational deferments and then because he was married and had a child. He worked as an intern in the office of Abraham Ribicoff, a far superior Connecticut senator, meeting his first wife there, Betty Haas. He divorced her in 1981 primarily because she wasn’t observant enough in her Jewish faith for him.

Lieberman was elected to the Connecticut state senate in 1970, where he served until losing his campaign for Congress in 1980. During those years, he was considered a “reform Democrat” and he rose quickly, serving as the body’s majority leader for the last six years of his tenure. But he came back in 1982 to win election as the state attorney general. He seems to have been relatively innocuous during these years, primarily working on enforcing environmental laws and consumer protection issues. But he already had a strong taste for centrism, the television lights, and endless self-promotion.

Lowell Weicker was actually pretty decent for a Republican, voting liberal on many positions, including foreign policy. This upset William F. Buckley. So in 1988, the dark prince himself decided to gin up right-wing support for the far more conservative Democratic candidate, Joe Lieberman. Buckley created bumper stickers that read “Does Lowell Weicker Make You Sick?” Buckley also introduced Lieberman to the state’s far-right Cuban community. He won the race over Weicker by 10,000 votes. Lieberman paid them back for their support by being as anti-Castro as anyone in the Senate.

Joe Lieberman, at his best, was a moralistic jerk who constantly concern trolled anyone to his left. He decided to make violence in video games a major early issue, for some reason. Like other centrist Democratic moralists of the 1980s, such as Tipper Gore, Lieberman found innovation in popular culture a threat. He was all in with the Democratic Leadership Council. In the aftermath of his 1994 re-election, which was a blowout in that horrible year since Republicans liked him too, Lieberman became the head of that most regrettable and annoying of all late 20th century political institutions, the Democratic Leadership Council. He was a huge proponent of the death penalty as well.

On top of being the most blowhard centrist imaginable, Lieberman’s personal moralism was also central to his political persona. That came to the forefront during Bill Clinton’s issues with Monica Lewinsky. Now, while I don’t generally care about politicians personal lives, I do have a serious beef with Clinton for allowing his personal lack of self-control to feed a Republican agenda for a very long time. Of course, Lieberman had to be the first Democrat to call him out. And while Lieberman did not vote to convict Clinton in the absurd impeachment trial that came out of the House, a lot of damage was done. None of this really hurt his standing with Connecticut voters, and in 2000, he was reelected to the Senate with 64 percent of the vote.

He won that Senate campaign while also on the ballot to be Al Gore’s choice for Vice-President. Now, I know that political science literature suggests that VP choices make no meaningful difference in determining the outcome of presidential elections, despite the hype given to them. I don’t really doubt that is true. However, I can say that while I was on the fence about voting for Gore in 2000, it was the choice of Lieberman that drove me firmly into the Nader camp. You can say I was young and stupid and yes, I do regret that vote. But the choice of Lieberman was just so disgusting. It was the gratuitous nature of that era’s Democratic Party that drove me crazy. Like, Gore could have chosen a lot of people and they could have been on the conservative side of the party, I guess. But no, he had to go all the way and choose Holy Joe. It was just gross. Gore wasn’t really going outside of the box on his possible choices. Lieberman was chosen over John Kerry, Bob Graham, and John Edwards. Of those four, really only Kerry was a good choice. I guess Graham would have been innocuous enough. Hard to say if Edwards was really worse than Lieberman; both turned out to be unacceptable, but we didn’t really know that about Edwards until a decade later. In truth, Lieberman was the worst possible choice Gore could have made.

Lieberman played little role in the fiasco that was the aftermath of the 2000 vote, but as he returned to the Senate, he certainly did not distance himself from the Bush administration. He came out strongly in favor of the No Child Left Behind Act, calling it a “progressive piece of legislation.” After 9/11, he completely embraced the warmongering, anti-Muslim rhetoric coming out of the White House. He was a leading figure in the race to create the Department of Homeland Security, which an already more than militarized nation did not need. Even as late as 2015, Lieberman said “I think the world is a lot better off, not withstanding all the problems in Iraq. I think the world is better off and the region is better off and the people of Iraq are better off.”[1] Not withstanding the point that Saddam Hussein was a very evil bastard, how can anyone say the people of Iraq were better off for the war? The answer is clear enough—for Lieberman, dead Muslims were simply a number, nothing to be taken real seriously. Lieberman also united with such lovely people as Lynne Cheney to found the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, which is best known for issuing a report after 9/11 that blamed liberal universities for growing anti-Americanism, which seemed to be defined as college students not cool with killing Muslims in nations that had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks.

Long after the war began, Lieberman thought it was hi-larious. He spoke at a private roast of Dick Cheney (this probably is the single worst event in the history of the human race) and is reported to have said something to the effect that “it’s nice that we’re all here at the Plaza instead of in cages after some war crimes trial.” “There were some waterboarding jokes that were really tasteless,” one guest told Buzzfeed. “I can see the case for enhanced interrogation techniques after Sept. 11 but I can’t really endorse sitting there drinking wine and fancy dinner at the Plaza laughing uproariously about it.”[2] But was Lieberman a better person than some right wing hack who agrees to attend a roast for Dick Cheney? No, no he was not.

Even though he and Bush were buds, Lieberman’s ambition led him to run for the presidency in 2004. The Joementum was not strong with this one. His famed and hilarious announcement after New Hampshire that he had finished in a three-way tie for third only served to make him even more of a national joke than he had already become.

None of this really changed Lieberman. In 2005, he was a critical part of the Gang of 14, which reinforced the filibuster and then voted in favor of both Sam Alito and John Roberts. To his credit, I guess, Lieberman was decent on some social issues. He generally supported same-sex marriage, cosponsored the 1990 Clean Air Act, and voted against drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. But for a Connecticut Democrat, those votes should have been standard fare, not the exception to an otherwise awful career.

In 2006, Connecticut Democrats had finally had enough and voted out Lieberman in the primary, choosing Ned Lamont instead. But did even this make Lieberman go away? Of course not. Since he was effectively a Republican anyway, he ran as an independent and enough of the state’s Republicans abandoned their candidate that he managed to win reelection this way. Respectable Democrats such as Hillary Clinton and Howard Dean tried to get Lieberman to respect the will of the Democratic voters and drop out, but it’s not as if Joe ever cared about anyone but himself, so he ignored them. He ran a campaign based on the need to kill more Iraqis, saying that if Ned Lamont won, “it will be taken as a tremendous victory by the same people who wanted to blow up these planes in this plot hatched in England. It will strengthen them and they will strike again.” Classy.

Lamont of course struck back saying that Lieberman was basically Dick Cheney, which was true. Harry Reid made a rare error here, telling Lieberman he would keep his committee assignments and seniority if he won. I guess Lieberman would have been comfortable just switching parties, which would have perhaps been unfortunate, but then Lamont would have been a far less annoying senator. Michael Bloomberg and leading Republicans held fundraisers for Lieberman and he managed to win.

Did Lieberman improve? Ha ha, no. First, he became the most powerful person in the Senate, which is why Reid kowtowed to him in the first place. As an independent in a Republican administration, had he chosen to side with Republicans, it would have been a 50-50 split. Lieberman could dictate his terms to stay with the Democrats and give them the slim 51-49 majority. Basically those terms meant that on policy Lieberman could do whatever he wanted. In February 2007, he rewarded Connecticut voters for their faith in him by publicly lobbying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for the confirmation of Sam Fox as ambassador to Belgium. Fox was a major funder of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth who had so viciously attacked John Kerry in 2004. A team player, that Joe Lieberman.

Lieberman continued basically accusing the Democratic Party of treason for opposing the Iraq War, claiming publicly in 2007, “They’re already asleep about the consequences of an American defeat in Iraq for our national security.”[3] In 2008, he spoke for a group called Christians United for Israel, headed by John Hagee, the far right pastor who has called the Catholic Church “the great whore” and claimed Hitler was God’s hand sending the Jews back to Israel. Did it matter to Lieberman that he was being used by the worst possible people to drive support for Israel so they can have their apocalypse? Of course not! In fact, the next year, he accepted the group’s Defender of Israel award. In 2010, he lambasted Barack Obama for not using the term “Islamic extremism” basically accusing the president, theoretically in his own party, of being soft on terrorism.

Then of course there was Lieberman’s strong endorsement of John McCain over Barack Obama in 2008. I always wonder what would have happened had John McCain done what he really wanted and chosen Lieberman as his VP in 2008. First, it would have been hilarious. Of course, it would have made no difference in helping McCain win. He was doomed just on structural factors, not to mention the more people saw him, the more people hated him, even convincing the fawning DC media to question their hero worship for like 10 minutes. But watching Lieberman’s droopy dog voice and face talking about how Joe Biden was somehow a threat to national security in the VP debate would have been absurd. Say this for Sarah Palin, at least she represented an actual group of Americans, even if they are the most horrible ones. Joe Lieberman never represented anyone but himself. Of course, that doesn’t mean Lieberman didn’t speak glowingly of Palin when McCain chose her, saying she was a “reformer who has taken on the special interests and reached across party lines.” Noted bipartisan reformer Sarah Palin!

Lieberman’s last term in the Senate was not one in which he shined. He played an absolutely critical role in making sure that the Affordable Care Act had no public option. He told Harry Reid he would filibuster any effort to create a public option. And while he wasn’t the only Democrat to torpedo a far better bill than what got passed, Lieberman has more than his share in the blame to make that happen. A lot of people were disgusted by his behavior in the 2006 election and he was only polling at a 31 percent approval rating in 2010, so he decided to retire at the end of his term. Chris Murphy replaced him and finally Connecticut Democrats had a real senator representing their interests.

Leaving the Senate didn’t make Lieberman any less of a thorn in the side of a decent politics. In 2013, he joined the American Enterprise Institute to run something called the American Internationalism Project with Jon Kyl. He occasionally showed up to Yeshiva University to teach a class. He continued to shake the militarism bells against Iran, attempting to undermine President Obama’s Iran nuclear deal and even led a rally outside of Kirsten Gillibrand’s office to get her to oppose the deal, which failed. He did finally endorse Hillary Clinton in 2016, which I imagine helped her with absolutely no one.

Lieberman may have theoretically supported Clinton in 2016, but he was happy to work with Trump. In fact, who did Betsy DeVos have introduce her to the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pension Committee for her confirmation hearings as Secretary of Education but Holy Joe himself. Great that he was willing to vouch for such a lovely person. Lieberman always had a soft spot for Trump. Speculating that the latter could run for president in 2000, Lieberman said in 1999, “The Donald is quite a ladies’ man. He’s going to have, if elected, an all-female cabinet…. Secretary of Energy Carmen Electra, Secretary of Defense Xena the Warrior Princess.” That’s some hot comedy from our favorite senator there! Trump nearly named him FBI director to replace James Comey, which would have been a total shitshow. I wonder if Lieberman would have toadied up to Trump in the required manner or whether his “look out for me and me alone” mentality would have let to a total blowup. I almost wish it happened just so we could have yet another reason to hate the man.

Lieberman sucked until the end. He continued to push the No Labels ratfucking nonsense to hurt Democrats. He had a new favorite senator–Krysten Sinema, who he championed leaving the Democratic Party to become her own personal brand. I can see why. Sinema is the most shallow and self-serving senator since Lieberman and in that body, that’s saying a lot.

So good riddance to Joe Lieberman. He’s probably off trying to create a third party of afterlife, saying of God and Satan that Both Sides Do It.


[1] http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/joe-lieberman-iraq-war

[2] https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/bensmith/waterboarding-is-a-big-joke-at-cheney-roast

[3] https://www.courant.com/politics/hc-joe-lieberman-iraq-war-08-2007-story.html

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