Editorials

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Editorials

Bush's Phony Compassion

Once you debase language, you are on your way to destroying the credibility of the public sphere. If people feel that everything they hear in public discourse is just pure nonsense, they will conclude that there's no point in voting or becoming involved.

So there is plenty of reason to object to George W. Bush's "compassionate conservatism." There is little that is compassionate in the Bush/Cheney agenda. George W. has been a champion of the death penalty (as governor of Texas he has imprisoned and executed more African-Americans than any predecessor), scuttled a bill to provide health insurance for poor children, and been generally hostile to legislation aimed at reducing racial profiling, restraining police brutality, or taking guns off the street--guns that kill a disproportionate number of young blacks and Latinos. He has shared his party's hostility to gays and lesbians and has shown a remarkable lack of caring about the situation faced by women who want an abortion to deal with pregnancies generated by rape or incest. What's compassionate about this?

A warm tone and a show of inclusion don't add up to compassion.

Vice President Lieberman?

We rejoice in the goodness of the American people whose capacity to overcome centuries of anti-Semitism made it possible for Al Gore to select U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman as a running mate without feeling that he was sacrificing his electoral chances.

I congratulate Al Gore for having the courage to make this selection, and pray that we will live to see the day when this same generosity is extended to African Americans and gays and lesbians.

Yet, as you may already know if you saw me on the Lehrer News Hour, CNN, CBS, and other news shows, I must temper this enthusiasm for a Jewish vice president with the recognition that Joseph Lieberman was the most politically conservative of the candidates Al Gore considered for the vice presidency. When Bush supporters claim that Lieberman's voting record shows a man closer to Bush than to Gore and lament the political capital Gore may thereby accumulate with conservative voters, you know that the rest of the country has something to worry about.

Through the legislation he has offered, Lieberman has accelerated the process by which the two major parties are merging into one pro-business, elitist, and morally tone-deaf governing force. In fact, Joseph Lieberman joined with Bill Clinton and Al Gore to create the Democratic Leadership Council precisely to transform the Democratic Party from its previous New Deal roots as the champion of working people, minorities, and the poor to a party that would cater to the needs of Wall Street and to the upper middle class. And they've done a great job. With Democrats on board, the gap between rich and poor has accelerated in the Clinton/Gore years, environmental protections have eroded when they conflicted with corporate interests, and defense spending (despite the end of the Cold War) has been treated as sacrosanct--instead, savings have been found by eliminating or reducing funding for the poor.

It's regrettable that the first time a Jew is selected for high office, that Jew is a person who has been the major Democratic Party advocate for the Star Wars defense system, the one Democrat who is associated with the values agenda of Bill Bennett, and one of the very few Senate Democrats who opposed raising the minimum wage and putting into place other protections for working people.

Given this kind of record, I have been particularly resistant to two claims made by the media about Lieberman:

1. He is the embodiment of the kind of moral leadership we need in America after the tawdry years of Bill Clinton. Though I salute Lieberman's critique of Clinton's sleazy sexual affair, I don't think that this earns him the title of moral leader. When I debated the Rev. Jerry Falwell on CNN on this issue in August, I pointed out that it has been the success of the religious right, coupled with the complicity of the media, to reduce our conception of morality to sexual behavior. …