Gore, Lieberman, and Revenge of the Press Prudes

by Alexander Cockburn And Jeffrey St. Clair

Now it’s the turn of Al Gore and Joe Lieberman to be flattered by the same moist-eyed press corps that’s been hailing the stultifying Republican convention in Philadelphia as a masterpiece of political stagecraft. Gore is being congratulated for pre-empting popular anger at the moral turpitude of the Clinton years. Yes, this is the same press that told us for an entire year that the American people were so furious at Bill Clinton for his conduct towards Monica Lewinsky that they wanted him to step down. Of course, poll after poll showed the American people rallying to Bill Clinton’s side.

We write on the morning after the announcement of Gore’s pick. Mostly it’s a day of shame for journalism. Column upon column of newsprint hails Gore’s acumen in undercutting the supposed “moral edge” in public esteem now held by the Republicans. Beyond anecdotal assessment no evidence for this edge is advanced. Column upon column dwells upon Lieberman’s powers of ethical discrimination, symbolized by his observance of the Sabbath and his criticisms of Bill Clinton.

It’s certainly proper to exult in a decline in prejudice at least to the point that Gore’s pollsters have advised the notoriously cautious vice president that it is a reasonable bet to pick a Jew as his running mate. But is the public not also entitled to learn something about Lieberman the Democratic politician?

In 1988 incumbent Senator Lowell Weicker, a maverick liberal Republican, was up for reelection, and his Democratic challenger was State Attorney General Joe Lieberman. Lieberman ran against Weicker from the right. Conservative guru William F. Buckley (a Connecticut resident) endorsed Lieberman and stumped to get out the right-wing vote for him. So did most of the Republicans in the Connecticut legislature. One telling moment of the campaign was a televised debate, in which Lieberman attacked Weicker for the latter’s support for lifting the embargo and reopening diplomatic relations with Cuba. Lieberman said to Weicker, “You’re closer to Fidel Castro than you are to Ronald Reagan.” With the Reaganite vote and the votes of most Democrats, Lieberman easily won the election.

Connecticut is well known for its hospitality to the insurance, aerospace, and arms industries. Few press accounts have evoked Lieberman’s obsequiousness to these corporate powers that underwrite his campaigns. The insurance industry didn’t like the Clinton health plan of 1993 and neither did Lieberman. The insurance industry wanted limits set on damages in product liability suits. Lieberman was one of only four Democratic senators to agree.

Potent in the political economy of Connecticut are Pratt & Whitney, United Technologies and Sikorsky. Senator Lieberman has duly been a mighty promoter of the Black Hawk helicopter, the Comanche, the Joint Strike Fighter, the F-22, the C-17 transport and the nuclear subs necessary to beat off the armadas of North Korea. He’s similarly been a fierce supporter of NATO expansion in eastern Europe, meaning that Poland, Hungary and Czechslovakia have to buy arms from these same corporations, with Uncle Sam guaranteeing the tab.

This record will presumably increase the appeal of Ralph Nader’s independent candidacy to progressives, but even this political consequence has not been regarded as pertinent by most of our colleagues in the corporate press, who are now preparing to fly west to Los Angeles and prepare the public for the traditional “speech of his life” from Al Gore.

There hasn’t actually been a decent speech by a presidential candidate at a major convention since William Jennings Bryan delivered his Cross of Gold finale to the Democrats in 1896. Given the hokum level endemic to our political process, how could there be? But that doesn’t impede the “hit-it-out-of-the-park” ritual deployed in the press every four years. Pundits who lauded Dole as Demosthenes in 1996 have been describing George W’s Bush’s address in Philadelphia as one of the best crafted homilies in the annals of human communication. Where CounterPunch remembers someone closely resembling a tailor’s dummy squinting tensely into the cameras and babbling phrases that would have embarassed a high school debating team, they hailed a statesman with the political dignity of Charlemagne and the warmth of Danny Kaye. Next it will be Al Gore’s turn, and it’s a fair bet he will be congratulated for “hitting it out of the park”.

The Republicans are actually being praised for their repulsively patronizing “black night” in Philadelphia. If they have any sense the Democrats will turn the tables and present their party as the true home of white suburban couples earning more than $200,000 a year and the Republican Party as the sanctuary of the “special interests”, aka welfare mothers and hip hop artists. Maybe that’s the meaning of the Lieberman pick, unless it’s a cynical effort to rally anti-Semites into the polling booths to vote for Pat Buchanan, thus undercutting the Bush vote.

Al Gore’s October Surprise

Maybe this is another round in the Jewish lobby’s ongoing feud with the Bush family.

One of President George Bush’s few courageous initiatives in foreign policy was the withholding of $10 billion in US loan guarantees in order to induce the obdurate Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, of the Likud Party, into parleys on the matter of Palestinian rights. Then, as as pro-Israeli lobbyists fanned out across Capitol Hill, Bush famously remarked in a press conference, “Who am I, one lonely guy against a thousand lobbyists?”

His sharp little crack was never forgotten, least of all by Al Gore, In May of 2000 the vice president addressed AIPAC, the leading pro-Israel lobbying outfit, in these terms: “I stood against the efforts of two previous administrations to pressure Israel to take stands against its own view of what was in Israel’s best interest. When a friend’s survival is potentially at stake, you don’t pressure that friend to take steps that it believes are clearly contrary to what is in that friend’s best interest.” Gore then lashed out directly at Bush.

“I vividly remember standing up against a group of Bush Administration foreign policy advisers who promoted the insulting concept of linkage, which tried to use loan guarantees as a stick to bully Israel”, Gore intoned. “I stood with you, and together we defeated them.” The outline of a Gore-organized October Surprise is coming into view. Al Gore has always worked by simple recipes. Back in 1992 his assigned task was to undercut President Bush’s status as the Hammer of Saddam by denouncing the US arming of Saddam in the mid and late 1980, also the failure to finish Saddam off at the end of the war.

In June of Campaign 2000, Gore publicly distanced himself from President Clinton on Iraq policy, reiterating that Saddam has to fall, and pledging support to an exile group called the Iraqi National Congress (INC), led by Ahmad Chalabi. In the late 1990s Chalabi’s cause was pressed by Republicans in Congress, most notably Jesse Helms and Trent Lott, and by that baleful schemer and hero of Israel’s ultra-rejectionists, Richard Perle.

A bizarre alliance, stretching from Helms to Perle and The New Republic to Vanity Fair’s Christopher Hitchens, pressed Chalabi’s call for the US to guarantee “military exclusion zones” in northern Iraq and in the south near Basra and the oil fields, to be administered by the Iraqi National Congress. In 1998, Clinton reluctantly authorized an appropriation of $97 million from the Pentagon budget to go to Chalabi’s group. But as a consequence of a fierce CIA attack on Chalabi’s credentials and prowess, only $84,000 was actually released, and that merely to pay for offices and some training in public relations.

So Gore’s stance on the INC in early summer 2000 was clearly preemptive groundwork for a fall campaign indicting the Bush family, along with Bush’s Defense Secretary Cheney, for being soft on Saddam and ratcheting up the possibility of another military strike against Iraq. Gore announced that he had differed with Clinton’s refusal to release $97 million in military aid to the Iraqi opposition. These posturings remain precisely that, for the simple reason that any serious plan for full-scale war to topple Saddam would involve (a) the cooperation of Saudi Arabia, and (b) a warm-up of relations with Iran, neither of which contingencies are in the least likely. CP

Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch. Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book is Killing Trayvons: an Anthology of American Violence (with JoAnn Wypijewski and Kevin Alexander Gray). He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net.

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