As if any new spigots of pap were needed in the pre-presidential race, two more have opened up with Joe Lieberman gushing on the right and Al Sharpton gurgling on the "left." These two look like opposites, but only to the untrained eye. While both would resent the comparison, the paragons of public piety resemble each other in at least one crucial respect: Neither the New York preacher nor the Connecticut senator is a loyal Democrat. Each has sought publicity by undermining the party whose nomination they now seek.
Among those who expressed joy when Lieberman was nominated for vice president in 2000 was his friend William Bennett, the great Republican authority on the virtues of hypocrisy. On the evening of Lieberman's acceptance at the Democratic convention in Los Angeles, Bennett quipped: "As I walked down here, people said, are you on your way to make the nominating speech?" Bennett later attacked Lieberman for sounding soft on the right-wing positions they share, not a virtuous thing to do to a man he owed considerable gratitude. Until Lieberman became Gore's running mate, after all, he had lent crucial Democratic cover to Empower America, the partisan conservative think tank that serves as Bennett's Washington headquarters.
Lieberman's feeble performance in the "debate" against his good friend Dick Cheney (husband of Lieberman's Empower America pal Lynne Cheney) deflated Gore's momentum as Election Day approached. It is hard to say what he brought to the Democratic ticket in 2000, aside from representing the laudable historic "first" of a Jewish candidacy on a national ticket.
Now Lieberman says he will "rise above partisan politics to fight for what's right for the American people." That sounds like the usual political tripe, lifted from the same stylebook as "changing the tone." What he is more likely to do, before primary voters send him back to Stamford, is what the conservative Democrat always does: soften up the likely nominee for the Republicans.
As for Sharpton, his attitude toward Democrats has been equivocal, at best, ever since he sold his endorsement to Alfonse D'Amato in 1986. Tim Russert didn't mention that yesterday, although the NBC anchor touched on several reasons why the slimmed-down demagogue is such a ludicrous candidate. At one of the many, many press conferences that the Rev will enjoy in months to come, someone should ask him about that D'Amato incident. It's a funny story that he will surely tell well, if perhaps not with absolute candor. More recently, Sharpton played a destructive role in the 2001 mayoral race in New York, helping to deliver City Hall to the Republican Party instead of the progressive Democrat Mark Green. That wasn't such a funny story, and it is told very well, along with other aspects of Sharpton's strange political career, in this old Newsday analysis by Dan Janison.
[11:04 a.m. PST, Jan. 13, 2003]