J.J. Goldberg

What Joe Didn’t Know, and When He Didn’t Know It

By J.J. Goldberg

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Say it ain’t so, Joe! Just nine years ago, Senator Lieberman of Connecticut was a national symbol of moral integrity and punchy independence, the Senate’s very first openly observant Jew, the first Jew to appear on a major party presidential ticket, the first senior Democrat to rebuke President Bill Clinton’s naughty bits. Now, in less than a decade, he’s gone from punchy to punchline. Half the nation is agog, asking: Where have you gone, Joe Lieberman? Where’s the old Joe we used to know?

In fact, there was another side to the old Joe that most of us never knew. I first got a peek at it back in 1991, a few weeks after the end of the First Gulf War, at a festive dinner in Brooklyn. But I get ahead of myself. I’ll tell you my story at the end.

First, let’s review the events of the past week. It was a week in which, as The New York Times’s Gail Collins put it, “Lieberman’s apparently successful attempt to hijack health care reform and hold it hostage until it had been amended into something that liberals couldn’t stomach has mesmerized the nation’s political class.”

Why did he do it? Collins, in that column on December 16 (which happened to be Beethoven’s 239th birthday) said there so many theories that she had “decided to start a rumor” that during Lieberman’s failed 2004 presidential bid he was “bitten by either a rabid muskrat or a vampire disguised as a moose.” Ouch.

Yup, liberals were steamed — even on the decorous Senate floor, where Lieberman asked for an extra minute to finish a thought and was slapped down by freshman Senator Al Franken of Minnesota. (You remember Franken. The ex-comic who narrowly beat incumbent Republican Norm Coleman last year and tweaked Coleman by telling voters, “I’m the only New York Jew in this race who was actually born in Minnesota.”) Here’s the Lieberman-Franken smackdown, in case you missed it.

But why — leaving aside the moose and muskrats — did Lieberman decide to turn around so suddenly and veto a Medicare expansion that he had endorsed just three months earlier, that he himself had first proposed five years ago? Health-care wonk Ezra Klein of the Washington Post blogged that Lieberman “seems primarily motivated by torturing liberals. That is to say, he seems willing to cause the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in order to settle an old electoral score” (meaning his 2006 defeat by Connecticut Democratic primary voters). Pow!

Fellow Washington Postman Charles Lane furiously retorted that Klein “essentially accuses Lieberman of mass murder because he disagrees with him on a policy issue,” which he said “is disgusting.” Sure, Lane conceded, it’s true that Lieberman “seems to bear a grudge against the Democratic liberals who tried to unseat him in 2006 because of his vote for the war in Iraq, and that he might be engaged in a little pay back right now.” Still, Lieberman’s “position on the Medicare buy-in is hardly beyond the pale. That’s more than you can say for Ezra Klein’s venomous post.” Got that? Klein was right about what Lieberman was up to, but he was rude to say so. Why, it was a shande far di goyim!

The New Republic’s health-care wonk Jonathan Cohn seconded Lane’s take on impropriety. “I think Chuck has a point here,” he wrote. It’s wrong to assume evil intent in opponents just because they disagree with you, Cohn wrote. “Absent evidence to the contrary, I shouldn’t accuse adversaries, in writing, of venal, self-centered thinking. And I shouldn’t assume they are indifferent to the suffering that motivates me.” Cohn added just one small cautionary note: “The trouble with Chuck’s argument is that there’s no evidence Lieberman believes any of these arguments against reform, and a great deal of evidence that he does not.” Zap! Boom!

Jonathan Chait, Cohn’s fellow New Republic-an (and fellow Gen-X Jew named Jonathan), fair-mindedly sought an explanation for Lieberman’s behavior that didn’t presume a vengeful or genocidal bent. “What’s his game?” Chait asked. “Why does he keep saying these wrong, uninformed things? I think one answer here is that Lieberman isn’t actually all that smart.”

I suspect that Lieberman is the beneficiary, or possibly the victim, of a cultural stereotype that Jews are smart and good with numbers. Trust me, it’s not true.

Bang! Zoom!

Which brings us back to Brooklyn in the spring of 1991. Freshman Senator Lieberman was the guest of honor at the annual dinner of the Council of Jewish Organizations of Borough Park, the neighborhood that’s home to the nation’s largest concentration of Haredi Jews, as many as 200,000. The council, dominated by the Ger Hasidic sect, was presenting Lieberman with its man-of-the-year award to honor his role in winning Senate approval, in defiance of his fellow Democrats, for the Gulf War in January that had driven invading Iraqi troops out of Kuwait.

Clearly moved as he accepted the award, Lieberman looked up and down the long dais of bearded, black-garbed rabbis before thanking them. It was a rare and special honor, he said, to be receiving this honor here in Borough Park, the epicenter of American Orthodoxy. Growing up in the small Orthodox community of Hartford, he said, “You people were my rebbeyim, my teachers. You were the ones who taught me the meaning of Torah, of hesed.” The rabbis beamed at him and at each other and nodded approvingly.

“You taught me the meaning of Torah u-Madda,” he continued — and at this moment the rabbis jerked as one to attention and stared at him in bewilderment. Torah u-Madda, “Torah and secular knowledge,” is the motto of Yeshiva University, the uptown bastion of Modern Orthodoxy. For at least 60 years the phrase has served as the rallying cry of Modern Orthodox Jews to distinguish themselves from the more cloistered, restrictive outlook of the Haredi traditionalists centered in Borough Park. Nothing was said, and the senator spoke on, oblivious. But his hosts’ looks at that moment said it all: He doesn’t know this? What else doesn’t he know?


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Comments
Bill Pearlman Thu. Dec 24, 2009

How about another possibility, maybe Lieberman is I don't know, RIGHT about this whole thing. And that Ezra Klein is NOT.

Miriam Chartier Fri. Dec 25, 2009

JJ Goldberg, my friend,

I know in your heart and mind, you know.....that higher learning will not be found in university's or any where in this world. For it is written...."Do not be afraid, O worm Jacob, O little Israel, for I Myself will help you," declares the LORD, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel." for it is written in,,,,Isaiah 41 Note:....for---I MYSELD----WILL HELP YOU. Note: G-D does not state mankinds thinking, the many volums the many words of man. NO, no, no, it was G-D, HIMSELF---ALONE!

Volums of mankinds thinking....can not bring the everlasting Covenant of G-D to us. For it is written....Genesis 17...I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your G-D and the G-D of your descendants after you.

For it is written...Psalm 84....For the LORD G-D is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor; no good thing does He withhold from those whose walk is blameless.

Our Guide...for it is written....Psalm 48...For this G-D is our G-D for ever and ever; He will be our guide even to the end.

My G-D.....for it is written....2 Samuel.. With your help I can advance against a troop; with my G-D I can scale a wall. Shepherd....for it is written....Psalm 23...THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD, I SHALL NOT BE IN WANT. IN YOUR HANDS I COMMIT MY SPIRIT; REDEEM ME, O LORD, THE G-D OF TRUTH. for it is written in..Psalm 31.

Psalm 51: BEHOLD, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom. What better teacher, and to be brought forth into the hidden part, truth will make me to know wisdom, my beloved. It is written....Isaiah 45...Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am G-D, and there is none else.

Miriam Chartier Fri. Dec 25, 2009

Now, it is written in Jeremiah 31....Behold, the day-sss coooome, (days in all our generation were sow DNA.....saith the LORD, that I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of man, and with the seed of beast.

It is written....Jeremiah 33...Thus saith the LORD; If ye can break my covenant of the day, and my conenant of the night, and that there should not be a day and night in their season.

the covenenant of day and night, putting sin out and doing the will of G-D....in their season....we are all given day-ssss to turn, and put sin out.

For it is written.....Jeremiah 33...the next verse is ....Then may also my covenant be broken with David my servant, that he should not have a son to reign upon his throne; and with the Levites the priest, my ministers.

go down a few verses...Thus saith the LORD; If my covenant be not with day and night, and if I have not appointed the ordinances of heaven and earth; Job 33...The Spirit of G-D made me (earth, flesh, death) but the breath of the Almighty gives me life. (heaven, spirit life everlasting life in the G-D of Host.

When we obey the Declare Decree in Ps. 2 to be brought forth as a son of the LIVING G-D. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, were all brought forth, the ordinances of heaven and earth. Now note....the next verse....of Jer. 33 Then will I cast away the seed of Jacob, and David my servant, so that I will not take any of his seed to be rulers, over the seed of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob: for I will cause their captivity to return, and have mercy on them. Think Tanks....now if we are all been seeded in the house of Jacob and David the house of Judah and Israel.....who seed is this G-D will use????????/ And note....the words of Jeremiah----HAVE MERCY ON THEM. NOT GOOD...MANKIND MUST TURN.

Miriam Chartier Fri. Dec 25, 2009

For it is written...12 Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto G-D who gave it. The book of Enoch and Jubilees that the watchers were locked in the Abyss for their sins. Are these the seeds that G-D let rule over us if we brake the earth and heaven convenant?

Steve Rothschild Sat. Dec 26, 2009

Can you please clarify Mr Pearlman -- which Joe Lieberman are you speaking about when you think he is "RIGHT"? Joe Lieberman who in September advocated expanding Medicare to age 55 or Joe Lieberman who in December opposed that expansion?

charles hoarse Wed. Dec 30, 2009

Then who is the real Joe Lieberman, Personally I still think he is for our prople.

Miriam Chartier Sat. Jan 2, 2010

Joe Lieberman, is his own man....I think, he feels bad about what has taken place....but nevertheless....he is a man that stand stright for what he believes to good....he has vowed to fight any government run insurance option, and said he was encouraged by the progress toward a consensus, but he'll wait to see final details.

The senator is infuriating Democrats...but they may bow to his demands by dropping a Medical expansion and the public option. His criticusm of Senator Burack Obama has infuriated many of his Democratic friends.

The Polilical war that goes on every day.....there is more war there than the anywhere in the world. War games. Lieberman may divorce himself from the democrats. I looks like a remarriage into Republican Party. Will the Democrats throw the rice??

Florida observer Tue. Jan 19, 2010

First time reader. You draw a much, much higher class of manic opinion than Haaretz articles. Fun reading.




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