Little Joe

Tuesday, 03 November 2009 12:50 By William Rivers Pitt, t r u t h o u t | Columnist | name.

Little Joe
Senator Joe Lieberman shoehorned himself into the center of the national debate over health care reform. (Photo Illustration: Lance Page / t r u t h o u t, Adapted From: Senate.Gov / wikimedia)

Senator Joe Lieberman managed to shoehorn himself into the center of the national debate over health care reform last week with his announcement that he would filibuster any health care legislation that contained any kind of a so-called "public option." Lieberman, the erstwhile Democrat turned Independent from Connecticut, went on "Face the Nation" on Sunday to reassert his opposition in no uncertain terms. "I feel so strongly about the creation of another government health insurance entitlement," said the senator. "The government going into the health insurance business - I think it's such a mistake that I would use the power I have as a single senator to stop a final vote." He went on to say that, in his opinion, it is the people pushing for a public option who are standing in the way of progress on reform.

Click here to listen to author William Rivers Pitt read his column, "Little Joe":

Not content merely to potentially derail an important Democratic piece of legislation the Democratic president has made a central priority, Lieberman went on to announce that he will happily campaign for Republican candidates in the 2010 midterm elections. "There's a hard core of partisan, passionate, hardcore Republicans," said Lieberman in a report by ABC News. "There's a hard core of partisan Democrats on the other side. And in between is the larger group, which is people who really want to see the right thing done, or want something good done for this country and them - and that means, sometimes, the better choice is somebody who's not a Democrat."

Why this man is tolerated by the Democratic caucus in the Senate is an enduring mystery, frankly, and not just because Lieberman is a publicity-hogging fraud, although that is most definitely the case. All he lacks is a big red nose, big red floppy shoes and big red tufts of hair sticking up from his head to complete his image as a clown, but anyone familiar with his record over the last several years doesn't need the props to complete the picture. He made Dick Cheney look like Socrates in the 2000 vice presidential debate. He ran one of the most ridiculous presidential campaigns in modern political history in 2004, failing to win a single primary and eventually finishing seventh behind Kerry, Edwards, Dean, Kucinich, Clark and the Reverend Al Sharpton. He lost his own state in 2006 and bailed on the Democrats, managing to win back his seat only by sucking up huge sums of GOP campaign donations, which he paid back by campaigning for Republican Senator John McCain in the 2008 presidential election and by bashing the Democrats while speaking at the 2008 GOP convention.

The serial list of failures Lieberman has to his name is by no means limited to the campaign trail. During his time in the Senate, he was an active opponent of the kind of financial regulation that would have spared our economy from having to deal with the Enron and Arthur Andersen meltdowns, as well as the calamity we are currently mired in. William Grieder, writing for The Nation in March of 2002, described Lieberman's foul impact in an article titled "Enron Democrats":

His most important crusade was protecting the loopy accounting for corporate stock options. Nervous regulators recognized early on that the profusion of stock options had the potential to deceive investors while cheating the tax system - illusions that could drive company stock prices to impossible heights. Tech startup firms, as well as established names like Microsoft, were issuing a growing volume of stock options as a substitute for wage compensation, especially for top executives. These companies did not have to report the billions in new options as an operating cost, thus making their earnings seem much greater than they were. Yet, when employees eventually cashed in the options, the companies claimed them as tax deductions. This two-way mirror is symptomatic of the deceptive bookkeeping that permeated corporate affairs during the boom and the bubble.

Back in 1993, when the Financial Accounting Standards Board proposed to stop it, Lieberman went to war. "I believe that the global pre-eminence of America's vital technological industries could be damaged by the proposal," he warned. The FASB, he insinuated, was politically motivated or simply didn't grasp the bright promise of the New Economy. Lieberman organized a series of letters warning the accountants' board to stop its meddling. In the Senate, he mobilized a resolution urging the Securities and Exchange Commission to squelch the reform. It passed 88 to 9. The regulators backed off - and stock prices soared on the inflated earnings reports. Whenever FASB tried to reopen the issue, Lieberman jumped them again. He was well rewarded by Silicon Valley and auditing firms. He is the New Democrats' favorite candidate for 2004.

Lieberman's victory was extraordinarily costly for the economy, not to mention duped investors, unhinging valuations and fostering the overinvestments that now hang over the tech industry. Accounting professor Itzhak Sharav of the Columbia University Business School describes Lieberman's intervention as the first step on "the slippery slope that got us mired in the Enron swamp." Once auditors and corporate managers saw regulators defanged on stock options, Sharav explained, they were emboldened to explore further in the realm of gimmicky profit reports. "How much is two plus two? How much do you want it to be?" Sharav said. "Once you start playing games with the numbers, there's no limit to what you might do." Senators Carl Levin and John McCain have proposed a nifty solution - companies can no longer have it both ways. If they don't account for their stock options as a cost in earnings reports, then they cannot claim them later as tax deductions. Lieberman is opposed - still on the slippery slope.

The mess he helped create on the economic front is only the tip of the iceberg. He supported the Bush administration's call for offshore oil drilling despite the damage such a program would do to the environment and tourism. He opposed lifting the ruinous Bush administration tax cuts. He supports the privatization of Social Security. He voted to confirm, and later publicly praised, former Bush administration Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. He defended Pastor John Hagee, who called Catholicism "The Great Whore" and said Hitler was a Hunter sent by God to get the Jews to Israel, and later compared Hagee to Moses when he spoke at Hagee's Washington-Israel summit last July. He sponsored the Senate version of the Iraq War Resolution, and supported that catastrophic conflict all the way down the line.

The list goes on, and on, and on, and on.

Enough of this clown. He should be stripped of his Senate chairmanship and sent across the aisle to his boon companions on the right. He should be ignored out of hand on the matter of health care reform, and anything else he decides to address. He has raised being wrong, craven, untrustworthy and useless to the level of high art. Anyone with a full understanding of his record and reputation would know better than to trust him with a job as a crossing guard, and never mind as any kind of a leader on issues of major national and international import. The man is a living, breathing train wreck, and he has no business whatsoever being allowed in the same postal code as the decisions to come that will shape our lives.

For now, he must be endured, because his term is not up until 2012. But he should not be allowed to keep the gift of his chairmanship, he should not be empowered in any way, and when the time comes, the Democratic Party should call down the thunder on any re-election campaign he might endeavor to undertake. Marginalizing Lieberman, and eventually getting rid of him, would be addition by subtraction, and the time to do that particular bit of math is long, long past due.

Last modified on Tuesday, 03 November 2009 17:56