Is Lieberman Worthy of Conservative Kudos?
Gottfried, Paul, Insight on the News
Commenting on Fox News Network on Aug. 8 about the selection of Sen. Joseph Lieberman as Democratic vice-presidential candidate, self-described liberal activist Ellen Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Studies described the Connecticut lawmaker as "my very favorite rightist." The interviewer, Sean Hannity, smiled at this praise with obvious pleasure, for though an embattled Republican loyalist, Hannity likewise talked up Lieberman as a "man of character and moderation."
These sentiments soon would be echoed across the country, and most noticeably by allegedly conservative celebrities and journalists. For William F. Buckley, Lieberman, a professing Orthodox Jew, is a "resplendent example of the species" and "99 percent pure goodness" -- the 1 percent of non-goodness coming presumably from the taint of original sin. For William Bennett, already interviewed on Aug. 8, Lieberman "has his feet much more firmly planted in the Talmud than in focus groups." For Eric Fettmann of the New York Post, Lieberman's Orthodoxy "defines who he is not just as a Jew but as an American." It "informs his public service" but, unlike evangelical Christianity, which Fettmann clearly despises, "is not something he proselytizes [sic]."
In a more fulsome tribute, Ben Wattenberg on Aug. 9 expressed his considerable pride in Lieberman as a fellow Jew and fellow moderate conservative. Because of the Lieberman factor, Wattenberg observed, he has "moved from Bush to undecided." The one drawback for Democrats in Lieberman's candidacy, notes another neoconservative, John Podhoretz, besides the perennial problem of Christian anti-Semitism, is the inevitability of a contrast between Al Gore and his running mate, "a man of conscience and high morals."
Undoubtedly shocked by these endorsements of Lieberman from self-described conservatives as well as the left, Bob Novak, in a syndicated column on Aug. 10, tried to set the record straight: "While talking the moderate talk, he walks the liberal walk. The news-media description this week of a centrist moderate or even conservative misrepresented a party regular who more often than not is a conventional liberal." Novak had abundant documentation for the charge being leveled: Lieberman's support for partial-birth abortion, federal gay-rights and hate-crime laws, and the marks that he received for his 1999 voting record in the Senate. The National Education Association rated his record at 90 percent and the National Abortion Rights Action League at 100 percent. On the other hand, the National Right to Life Committee rated Lieberman at 2 percent, and the American Conservative Union gave him a zero.
Moreover, Lieberman's supposed breaking of ranks with his party in criticizing President Clinton over the Monica Lewinsky affair -- an action that several days ago George Will reached for superlatives to extol -- was an empty gesture that also may have been highly calculated. In the end, after well-televised hand-wringing, Lieberman voted with the Democrats to take Clinton off the hook.
It might be asked what harm there is in having conservatives praise a nice guy from a non-Christian minority group, without necessarily seconding all his positions. As New York Post columnist Ron Dreher pointed out on Aug. 9, "with the possible exception of Pat Moynihan, Honest Joe is every Republican's favorite Democrat." He "has earned friends and admirers on the cultural right as a leading cultural critic of sex and violence in the entertainment industry."
But the liberal Democratic former senator from Illinois, Paul Simon, took exactly the same stands without eliciting applause from the "cultural right" Indeed, conservative journalists were quite critical of Simon, although his voting record in the Senate was no more liberal than that of Lieberman. And, despite the misinformation spread by conservative journalists that Lieberman was Gore's most conservative vice presidential possibility, it was not the Connecticut senator but an Indiana senator, Evan Bayh, who may have stood farthest to the right as an opponent of partial-birth abortion. …