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Are Rev. Jackson and Black Politicians Afraid To Criticize Sen. Lieberman's Record?

Watching Rev. Jesse Jackson answer questions yesterday, as he received the Medal of Freedom award was sad. Question after question dealt with Senator Joseph Lieberman and whether or not an NAACP official was anti-Semitic for recent comments that he made. Rev. Jackson, true to form, deftly handled the questions - repeatedly - but the distressing part of the press conference was how Rev. Jackson bent over backwards to heap praise after praise on Lieberman and how he worked to couch the Lieberman nomination in terms of the barriers that it would break down for all people. The Reverend also did this same thing on Monday, the day it came out that Lieberman was Gore's pick. And here was the Reverend, again, praising a man who has led an organization, the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), that did more to move the Democratic Party away from Black interests and the Civil Rights agenda and which did more to oppose Rev. Jackson's campaigns in 1984 and 1988 than any other organization. Though he has serious differences in philosophy with Lieberman, in order to prove that he isn't an anti-Semite, Rev. Jackson, at least for the time being, has silenced all legitimate criticism of the Connecticut Senator.

No liberal or true civil rights advocate can look at the voting record of Sen. Lieberman and credibly embrace him with no criticism or questions asked. No Black Democrat can look at Sen. Lieberman's stewardship of the DLC and credibly embrace him with no criticism or questions asked. And no Black Democrat can look at the history of how in 1994, Sen. Lieberman worked to move President Clinton to the right and closer to key aspects of the Republican Contract With America without having concerns over his selection. It was Lieberman who encouraged Clinton's efforts on crime reduction, welfare reform and the balanced budget.

It is peculiar to see the same Black politicians who opposed Clinton and the Republicans on these issues embrace Sen. Lieberman, again, with no reference to his past history.

And with Rev. Jackson, his disagreement with centrist and conservative Democrats over the direction of the Democratic Party was intense. For years, in the 80s, Rev. Jackson worked to oppose the Democratic Party's rightward drift - a drift engineered by the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), an organization that President Clinton would head while governor of Arkansas. In return the DLC attacked Jackson personally and politically doing everything it could to distance the party from him and his brand of politics.

In fact, in 1988, the DLC even went so far as to engineer the Super Tuesday primary format in order to stack early Democratic primaries in the South, thinking that conservative Democrats would turn out in great numbers and back Al Gore and put an early end to Rev. Jackson's campaign. But the tactic failed thanks to an enormous turnout of Black voters.

Then we all know how, at the DLC's prodding, then Governor Clinton paid Rev. Jackson the ultimate insult of embarrassing him in his own house in 1992, using Sister Souljah against Rev. Jackson at a Rainbow PUSH convention where Clinton was the invited guest of honor.

But it would not be until 1994 to the present, that the DLC, led by a small group of politicians, including Sen. Lieberman, would succeed in the effort to pull Clinton away from the liberal wing of the party and its attention to the civil rights agenda. It was Sen. Lieberman who would be most vocal in criticizing Pres. Clinton's slow movement from 1992-1994 away from the Black dominated wing of the party and the issues that they championed. And it would be Sen. Lieberman who would lead the fundraising efforts later in the 1990s for those candidates - "New Democrats", who would champion tough crime measures, welfare reform and the balanced budget - issues that would win praise and Republican support but which would disproportionately have a negative impact on government spending programs that Rev. Jackson, the Congressional Black Caucus and civil rights leaders argued were good for Blacks and the poor.

So for Rev. Jackson to couch Sen. Lieberman's nomination strictly in terms of the symbolic value of Sen. Lieberman's nomination is to avoid a legitimate and necessary debate over the past, present and future direction of the Democratic Party. For a man who prides himself on advancing issues and not getting sidetracked on media hype, Rev. Jackson's attention to Sen. Lieberman's Jewishness appears to be out of character and gives in to the media smokescreen which clouds and obscures issues but elevates personalities.

Furthermore it was Rev. Jackson who in October of 1998 told Tim Russert, in front of a national television audience on Meet The Press that a "Black should be on the ticket" in 2000. Whatever happened to that statement or Rev. Jackson's advocacy of its fulfillment? Why would Rev. Jackson immediately embrace Sen. Lieberman's candidacy before having Vice-President Al Gore address the fact that not one single Black was considered for the position of vice-president? Not to mention the fact that the Senator and the Reverend have very serious policy differences.

The net effect of the Lieberman embrace is that it stifles debate going into the Democratic convention. It also helps to lay the foundation that to criticize Lieberman is to be anti-Democrat or even worse anti-Semitic. By doing whatever he can to not appear anti-Semitic, Rev. Jackson has perpetuated the taboo on Black criticism of Jewish political figures. Rev. Jackson has criticized Pres. Clinton, Vice-President Gore and other Democrats why is it different for Sen. Lieberman, when the differences of opinion are so clear and so well documented? And now that the NAACP is on the ropes over charges of anti-Semitism one has to wonder whether that organization, which absolutely has philosophical disagreements with Sen. Lieberman, will be to voice those disagreements. Will any Black Democratic politician be able to?

Certainly if Dick Cheney can be put through the paces by the Black political establishment, Joe Lieberman can too. Anything else would be unfair and a disservice to the Black electorate.

There are legitimate reasons to disagree with Sen. Lieberman - from his being in the grip of the military-industrial complex, his voting record, his advocacy of welfare reform, crime legislation, leadership of the DLC, foreign policy positions, campaign finance activities, treatment of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. And in a normal political environment such criticism and debate of the issues would take place.

However, it is hard not to sense an early movement to kill such a dialogue, especially within the Black Community.

Sen. Lieberman could be the best or worst candidate ever for Vice-President but how will the Black Electorate know that for certain if its political leaders voluntarily stamp out that debate?

In order to see how the Gore -Lieberman ticket is already returning to its DLC "centrist" ways, one only needs to look at how the ticket is already positioning itself. In their first days of campaigning where do they go? The South. The exact same territory, in 1988, that the DLC said the Democratic Party needed to win back from Republicans. It was the South where the DLC first sought to prove that it was no longer a minority Party and free of the influence of Jesse Jackson and the causes, supported by Blacks, that he represented. In 1988 the DLC used every stratagem at its disposal to win the south for its candidate Al Gore and to stop the efforts of Rev. Jackson's campaign. Today, they don't have to work nearly as hard.

Read this brief excerpt, this morning, from the campaign trail:

By Mike Glover

Associated Press Writer ATLANTA (AP)
-- Focusing on welfare reform and economic revival in the South, Al Gore and Joseph Lieberman signaled their intent to contest the region despite its recent Republican tilt. The first stop Thursday was a meeting southern Democratic governors convened here specifically to tie into the Gore-Lieberman campaign. While they planned no new policy initiatives, they were couching welfare issues in terms geared to sell with moderates, arguing they represent a new generation of Democratic leaders. "We imposed time limits and required work,'' Gore said in remarks prepared for the conference, taking pride in facets of welfare reform that angered liberals. "We moved millions from welfare to work and gave people more than a paycheck, we gave them pride again,'' said Gore. Gore aides said the southern Democratic governors want to push welfare reform as an issue in the region. Gore noted that the nation now has the fewest number of people on welfare -- 6.6 million -- since 1968 and pledged to continue the effort...

Doesn't the Democratic Party and America need a true debate over the real impact of welfare reform, especially on Black America? Has it really worked as well as Clinton-Gore, Gore-Lieberman and the DLC would have Blacks believe? What about the booming economy argument? Has it really been a boon to Blacks who have been disproportionately incarcerated due to policies championed by Clinton, Gore and Lieberman?

It truly is a sad day in Black political leadership when the only politician willing to confront Sen. Lieberman about the effect that his policies have had on Blacks is a white male who is not even a member of the Democratic Party - Ralph Nader. While Rev. Jackson was on television praising the symbolism of Lieberman's nomination, Nader was criticizing the efficacy of Lieberman's policies.

Cedric Muhammad

Thursday, August 10, 2000

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The views and opinions expressed herein by the author do not necessarily represent the opinions or position of or Black Electorate Communications.

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