For Joe Lieberman, it’s always been about the money.
Back in the mid-1970s I was working as a part-time PR writer for a non-profit day program for the elderly in Norwalk, CT, called Elderhouse. The director called me to say they were getting a visit from an influential state senator and would I drop by to cover the visit.
The state senator, of course, was Joe Lieberman, and he was a very impressive young man. What I remember most, however, was an incident that took place with one of the senior citizens who lived in the building on the Post Road in Norwalk. Lieberman and an old man were standing next to a vending machine. The resident — I believe his name was Harry Wenger — asked Lieberman to buy him a Coke. The senator smiled and said, “Sure!” He reached into his suit pants pocket and pulled out a handful of coins. He dropped a quarter into the machine and presented the resident with a cold can of Coke. We were all very pleased.
Later I spoke briefly with Lieberman as he was leaving to get a quote for my news release. When we were finished, he asked me for a quarter. I wanted to know why he wanted it. He explained that he had paid for the old man’s Coke and expected to be reimbursed. I was too startled to say anything and pulled a coin from my own pocket and gave it to him. I never thought about the incident again until October, 2003.
Let me confess that I do have certain politically suicidal tendencies. A glaring example of this was my support for Joe Lieberman during the 2003-2004 New Hampshire presidential primary season. On his behalf I made some phone calls, went to his events in Manchester and elsewhere. I tried recruiting others to the Lieberman cause, but that — it turned out — was a lost cause.
One dead giveaway was the attendance at Lieberman’s rallies. There wasn’t any. I was there and perhaps a dozen other non-paid New Hampshire supporters were there. That was it. To give the impression of a full house, busloads of state workers and other Democrats from New Haven were shuttled in while the cameras rolled. It was a great show, especially the night that his mother was there. She must have been proud of her son!
By the fall of 2003 Lieberman’s poll numbers in New Hampshire were in the low single digits. Instead of becoming more favorable as people got to know him, his favorability ratings went down. Those of us who were supporting him were working our tails off trying to keep our collective heads above water. One day in October, I called Lieberman’s headquarters to ask about an upcoming event with the candidate. I was told he had left the state for an important Senate vote and it wasn’t clear when he was returning.
What was this “important” vote? Lieberman dumped his campaign to vote himself a Senate pay raise. Technically, it was a vote to table a Russ Feingold amendment that would have made such a pay raise impossible. Lieberman understood that if the amendment failed, he could kiss his $15K raise goodbye. (Hillary Clinton, by the way, voted against tabling the amendment.)
For me it was the last straw. Aside from the miserable symbolism of a presidential candidate voting for a pay raise when many Americans were still hurting from the Bush recession, it gave me a clear view of Lieberman’s priorities. It also contributed to the awful stereotype of Joe the Jewish Tightwad. Then, all in a flash, I remembered that moment in Norwalk, CT, 25 years earlier when he hit me up for a quarter because he had “splurged” and bought some old man a Coke.
I still have the press release somewhere. It was one my first and for a short time, one of my proudest. Then I got to see Lieberman for who he really was. In the past few days, it has become clearer to others in the media that for Joe Lieberman it was, and still is, all about the money.
Here’s John Farrell and US News about Lieberman caving to special interests on health care reform. Here’s MSNBC on Lieberman getting caught “red-handed” bowing to those interests and changing his position on the Medicare option.
You can watch Lieberman supporting the Medicare option here:
You can also read this story about Lieberman’s campaign contributions from the health care industry.
I think John Farrell got it right: “Who qualifies for the lower circles of hell? How about a politician who abandons interests, party, and constituents, and screws things up for the rest of us just to stroke his ego? How about Joe Lieberman?”
(This article was originally written by my co-editor at the Hillary Clinton Quarterly, Frank Marafiote. In “honor” of Lieberman’s retirement, I am happy to reprint the article here.)