The Left Hook! Archive

 Left Hook! The Blog

Mythmakers & Joe Lieberman The Liberal

A piece I wrote some years ago about Brent Bozell's amusing efforts to convert Connecticut's right-wing "Democratic" Senator Joe Lieberman into a liberal, just after Lieberman had been tapped by Al Gore as his Vice Presidential candidate in the 2000 election..

8/14/00 -- The MRC, run by L. Brent Bozell III, operates as a right-wing version of Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR), supposedly tracking "liberal bias" in the press. Their work is, shall we say, not quite up to that of their liberal counterparts. Al Gore's choice of Joseph Lieberman as the Democratic VP nominee occasioned some comments by Bozell this week that are illustrative of the quality of work that goes on over at the MRC.

 Hard-Right Cheney vs. Conservative Lieberman? is largely devoted to taking issue with the media portrayal of Joseph Lieberman as moderate and even "conservative." Lieberman, suggests Bozell, isn't just liberal; but extremely liberal, and his press portrayal as "conservative" an outrage.

First, some info on Lieberman.

Lieberman chairs the Democratic Leadership Council (the "New Democrats"), a group explicitly founded to drive the Democratic party to the right. In line with this, he's also the founder of the New Democrat Network, a PAC devoted to raising funds from big money sources. He's been a backer of bloated military budgets for years, including heavier and heavier spending on the "Star Wars" boondoggle. He was a war-hawk during Operation Desert Storm and continues to be an enthusiastic supporter of the sanctions against Iraq, which have killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis since the conclusion of the war.  He pushed for U.S. participation in the World Trade Organization, and for NAFTA, which he now favors extending to other countries south of the border. He was one of only three Senate Democrats to vote for the noxious Republican "tort reform" bill arbitrarily limiting punitive damages in product liability cases. He is an on-the-record opponent of affirmative action and gay marriage. He's joined with reactionaries like William Bennett in trashing the entertainment industry [*], and he literally wrote the law that would require so-called "V-chips" to be placed in every new television in order to filter out violent programming. He supports school vouchers and has expressed admiration of the idea of privatizing Social Security.

Lieberman's right-wing credentials aren't in serious doubt by any fair observer.

Brent Bozell doesn't work for FAIR, though. He runs the MRC, and he says, hogwash; Lieberman is a liberal, and an extremely liberal one, at that. In "proving" this, he uses, as his "evidence," the ratings of the liberal Americans for Democratic Action and the right-wing American Conservative Union.

The information he quotes shows that there is indeed a real story here, but not the one he wants us to believe. The info should serve to throw a spotlight on the ridiculous manner by which these groups rank candidates. The rankings in question don't reflect the comprehensive review suggested by the use of percentage ratings. In reality, these and similar organizations base their percentage ratings on a small number of issues which they carefully hand-pick in order to give high ratings to the candidates of the party with which the organization is more closely ideologically aligned. Bozell doesn't go into Lieberman's actual record--he depends entirely upon these "ratings" to make his case.

Bozell: "In 1999, Lieberman was assessed 95 percent from ADA, making him one of the Senate's eight most liberal Senators. That year he also received a fat zero in the ACU conservative ratings." Rather than taking this as a cue to investigate further, Bozell makes this his case, and never even considers the possibility that this information says everything about the groups in question and nothing about Senator Joseph Lieberman.

"How you can be a fiscal conservative and one of the biggest spenders in Congress is an interesting quandary."  Not really.  Bozell got his idea of Lieberman as a big spender from the National Taxpayers Union. Setting aside the question of the soundness of their own methodology (NTU is a right-wing group), conservative Republicans have proven themselves just as willing to "tax and spend" when it comes to their pet projects, and this is completely meaningless as a liberal/conservative measuring stick. Bozell himself inadvertantly eviscerates the NTU's rating system when he notes that, by the NTU's standard, Lieberman comes out as more "liberal" than Paul Wellstone--in reality, one of the Senate's most consistent liberals.

Bozell also stumbles upon the stupidity of what he's putting forward when he writes that "a reading of the last few years of ideological ratings leads one to conclude that, in fact, there are no conservative Democrats in the Senate. A tour of the latest 'Almanac of American Politics' (for 1997-1998) shows that only Sen. Ernest Hollings got a single ACU rating above 25 (a 33 in 1998)." Take that to heart, folks; those conservative Democrats you see every day on C-Span are all in your head.

There's another kind of ranking Bozell could have examined in assessing Lieberman: The Senator has recieved more contributions from insurance companies this election cycle than any other. He's the third highest recipient of contributions from the pharmaceutical industry. Big Business has accounted for 76% of Lieberman's campaign contributions since 1994. Not exactly a liberal record.

Bozell concludes: "If Joseph Lieberman is a conservative, what does that tell you about the ideological compass of the national press? If he is a conservative, there really must be a vast right-wing conspiracy." To deflate this idiocy, one need go no further than the Bush/Cheney campaign; "conservative" enough to get the backing of Bozell, the campaign had this to say to the press immediately after the Lieberman nomination was announced:

"From Social Security reform to missile defense, tort reform to parental notification [regarding abortion], and from school choice to affirmative action, Al Gore has chosen a man whose positions are more similar to Governor Bush's than to his own."

The reactionary Jerry Falwell, who has never uttered a warm word about a liberal in his life, was just as unambiguous in the New York Times (8/08/00):

"I think the vice president made an excellent choice. It is a public acknowledgment that his candidacy has two great needs. One is credibility, which Mr. Lieberman brings to anything he touches. The second is an everlasting divorce from Bill Clinton, and this is that."

It explains a lot about why the MRC says there's a "liberal media" that someone like Lieberman could be portrayed by its head as a liberal. That Bozell would characterize Lieberman as not only liberal by extremely liberal begs the question of what it would take before someone could be fairly considered a "conservative" in his eyes.


[*] Bennett sits on the board of the Center for Jewish and Christian Values, a hard-right group that blames America's ills on "a breakdown of basic morality." Other board members include Gary Bauer, Ralph Reed, Elliott Abrams, Jack Kemp, Jeanne Kirkpatrick, William Kristol, Michael Medved, and Robert Novak--a who's who of prominent American reactionaries. Joseph Lieberman chairs this group.

Left Hook! The Blog
 The Left Hook! Archive

Left Hook!