When Vice President Al Gore announced that Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., was his running mate, many people applauded. Lieberman, an honorable man, was seen as a refreshing choice that just might help voters forget the immorality and corruption emblematic of the Clinton-Gore administration. Having had the occasion to share a couple of dinners and conversations with Lieberman, I am among those who respect his honor and integrity.
Since Lieberman’s selection as Gore’s running mate, I’ve come to have a bit less respect for his honor and integrity. Lieberman has seen it necessary to accommodate political reality and learn to grovel, defined by Webster’s dictionary as: to behave humbly or abjectly, as before authority; debase oneself in a servile fashion. Why? He has taken some policy positions inimical to powerful voting blocs within the Democratic Party.
One of those offended blocs is the Congressional Black Caucus and the civil-rights establishment. Lieberman has come out strongly against racial preferences and quotas. He also voiced support for California’s Proposition 209, which banned racial preferences in college admissions. In a 1995 speech on the Senate floor, Lieberman said, “Affirmative action is dividing us in ways its creators could never have intended because most Americans who do support equal opportunity and are not biased don’t think it is fair to discriminate. For after all, if you discriminate in favor of one group on the basis of race, you thereby discriminate against another group on the basis of race.”
That kind of talk earned Lieberman the ire and suspicion of black congressmen such as John Conyers, D-Mich., and Maxine Waters, D-Calif. During the Democratic Convention, Lieberman had a private meeting with Waters and he addressed 300 members of the Black Congressional Caucus and the Democratic National Committee’s Black Caucus and others. He backpedaled and recanted, and swore that he’d be a team player in a Gore administration and support racial preferences.
I sincerely feel pity for Lieberman. He hasn’t changed his thinking about racial preferences, but in the name of political expediency he has had to grovel and dishonor himself. A Gore-Lieberman ticket has no chance for the White House without the enthusiastic support of black voters. A vice presidential candidate hostile to racial preferences puts that support at risk.
A Gore-Lieberman ticket also has no chance without the support of the powerful National Education Association (NEA), the teachers’ union. Lieberman earned their ire and suspicion by coming out in support of education vouchers. In an interview in the summer 1990 issue Policy Review, when asked about solutions to rotten public education, Lieberman said: “I am intrigued by the ideas of vouchers and choice as a way to create competition in the educational marketplace. I bet such competition would be popular, and would excite a lot of families, a lot of parents, a lot of students.”
The notion of competition and accountability is not only an anathema to the public education establishment but to the Black Caucus and civil rights organizations, as well. The largest percentage of black professionals are members of the public education establishment, and like their white counterparts, they don’t want competition and accountability. So Lieberman has backpedaled, saying he only wanted to test vouchers.
The fact that vouchers are favored by up to 80 percent of black parents, and routinely condemned by the so-called black leadership, is just another example of divergent interests between that leadership and the majority of their constituents. Often, when privately funded vouchers are about to be awarded, 20,000 parents might line up for 1,000 vouchers.
Lieberman’s transformation is an object lesson on how politics can separate honor and dignity, and political expediency.