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Lieberman, Lamont and the Future of the Democrats

The last time that Democratic primary voters turned out a nationally-known U.S. Senator because they did not like where he stood on an issue of war and peace was in 1970, when Texas Democrats rejected anti-war incumbent Ralph Yarborough and replaced him with Lloyd Bentsen, a former congressman who favored taking a tougher line against the Vietcong in Vietnam and against student protesters on the campuses of the United States.

The Texas result was big news nationally, and it played a significant part in the decision of the Nixon White House to try and stir up a "silent majority" backlash to congressional liberals in that fall's Senate races.

Thirty-six years later, in a very different state, Democratic primary voters may avenge Yarborough's loss and set in motion a backlash of another character altogether.

If anti-Iraq War challenger Ned Lamont defeats pro-war incumbent Joe Lieberman in today's contest for the Democratic Senate nod in Connecticut, and if Democrats in Washington finally figure our that no message energizes their base so much as the "Bring the Troops Home" signal that Lamont has sent, then the 2006 election could yet be the referendum on George W. Bush's misguided policies that Democrats denied voters in 2002 and 2004.

There were a lot of "ifs" and "coulds" in that previous paragraph. Here's why: Though Lamont took a poll lead several weeks ago, there were some indications in the final days of the race that Lieberman was making something of a comeback. A Quinnipiac poll released yesterday had Lamont at 51 percent and Lieberman at 45 percent – suggesting a closer contest than the one seen in polls from last week, which had Lamont up by 10 to 13 points.

Could Lieberman still win this thing? It's not beyond the realm of possibility. Though his reelection campaign has been pathetic, and though he is dramatically out of touch with Democrats on the war issue, the incumbent retains strong name recognition, he has most of the major endorsements from interest groups and newspapers in the state, and he has spent a lot of money on a bitterly negative television advertising campaign against Lamont.

It is the prospect that Lieberman could have a little more going for him than has seemed to be the case through much of the primary fight that has the Lamont campaign working harder than ever today. The narrowing of the polls is likely to bump turnout, perhaps to an unprecedented 45 or 50 percent of the potential primary electorate. The best bet is that this will help Lamont, but the uncertainty about who all these new voters might be – in a state where it is relatively easy for Republicans and independents to reregister as Democrats and participate in the primary – will have everyone on edge until the results are in this evening.

Even if Lamont wins, there is still that bigger "if." Will Democrats in Washington get the message that the war is the issue that gets voters to the polls and that, ultimately, poses a threat to stay-the-course incumbents of both parties? The answer to that question has a lot to do with the size of the margin in Connecticut.

If Lamont wins narrowly – say, by under four points – Lieberman will claim that Democrats are just about evenly divided and plunge into a third-party challenge to the Democratic nominee as the candidate of his newly-created "Connecticut for Lieberman" party.

On the other hand, if Lamont secures a decisive victory with a margin of ten points of more, then the pressure on Lieberman to accept the result will intensify. It will become difficult for the incumbent to hold onto those endorsements from groups such as the AFL-CIO, Planned Parenthood and the League of Conservation Voters. And the senator might either forego a fall race or mount a titular campaign that will ultimately be a sad footnote to a lamentable career.

If Lieberman has to hang it up tonight or in the next few days, Democratic Party leaders in Washington are likely – because of the intensity of interest in this contest – to be forced by a suddenly engaged press corps to speak with a measure of clarity about where they stand on the war. Chances are that they will try to firm up a message that on the eve of the primary was still better defined as a "whine" than a muscular challenge to Bush and the neoconservatives.

The prospect that the Connecticut primary could be about more than one state's Senate nomination is what will make tonight a rare moment in American politics. It has been a long time since a Democratic Senate primary shifted the direction of national politics. If this one does, and if it pushes the party in the direction of the anti-war position embraced by most Americans at this point, then this will be a historic day – the day when, after far too long, our politics again became meaningful.

Beyond My Lai : New Revelations of Vietnam Atrocities

How long does it take the US government to release documentation about atrocities in which US military forces killed unarmed civilians, women and children? In the case of Vietnam, it's taken almost 40 years. The 1968 My Lai massacre became public in 1969, but officials at the time said My Lai was an "isolated incident"--the same thing we hear about atrocities today in Iraq and elsewhere. After that, GIs described dozens of other My Lai-style atrocities in which they said they had taken part. Those GIs were called liars and traitors, and no one was ever punished for any of the events they described.

Now the Los Angeles Times has published a page one story, "Vietnam Horrors: Darkest Yet," based on official government documents detailing 320 incidents of Vietnam war atrocities that were confirmed by army investigators. The documentation, according to the Times, comes from "a once-secret archive assembled by a Pentagon task force in the early 1970s." This "Vietnam War Crimes Working Group" archive, 9,000 pages long, was discovered by Nick Turse, who was doing research for a Ph.D. dissertation as a student at Columbia University. Turse shares the byline on the Times report with staff writer Deborah Nelson.

The stories are terrible. "Kill anything that moves" – that's what one company of American soldiers was told when they set out on a sweep of the rice paddies on Vietnam's central coast in February 1968, according to Jamie Henry, at the time a 20-year old medic. So they shot and killed 19 unarmed civilians, women and children. When Henry got home to California, he held a news conference describing the slaughter, but there was no official response. Now we learn that the army did investigate his report -- and concluded it was accurate – but did nothing to punish the guilty.

The official line that abuses were "confined to a few rogue units" is demolished by the material Turse discovered. Atrocities were committed, according to the Times, by "every army division that operated in Vietnam." They found a pattern of "recurrent attacks on ordinary Vietnamese--families in their homes, farmers in rice paddies, teenagers out fishing," who were "murdered, raped and tortured with impunity" by American soldiers.

Military investigators documented seven large-scale massacres between 1967 and 1971 in which at least 137 civilians were killed. They described 78 other attacks on civilian noncombatants in which US troops killed at least 57, wounded 56 and sexually assaulted 15. They described 141 incidents of torture of civilians, including the use of electric shock.

The evidence against 203 soldiers was strong enough for the military to bring formal charges of war crimes. According to the Times investigation, 57 were court-martialed and 23 convicted – about ten percent. Fourteen were sentenced to prison for terms ranging from six months to 20 years, but most appealed and won significant reductions. The longest sentence, 20 years, went to an interrogator convicted of "committing indecent acts on a 13 year old girl in an interrogation hut." He served only six months.

Army investigators came to no finding about 500 other reports of atrocities, some of which described extensive killing. One sergeant reported in a 1970 letter about a pattern of American soldiers murdering civilians in the Mekong Delta in 1970. "I am trying to tell you about 120-150 murders, or a My Lay [sic] each month for over a year," he wrote. The Times reported that "there is no evidence in the files that his complaint was investigated further."The extensive LA Times report includes details about particular incidents and online links to documents including statements by participants in atrocitiesand a memo from White House counsel John Dean.

Of course this archive deals only with Vietnam atrocities that the army investigated. Doubtlessly hundreds, perhaps thousands of other incidents were not reported – for example former Senator Bob Kerrey's role in killing unarmed Vietnamese villagers in the Mekong Delta in 1969, first reported in 2001.

The Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 and official US policy require the protection of civilian non-combatants in wartime. Public opinion in the US turned against the Vietnam war in part because My Lai suggested it was a war on the Vietnamese civilian population rather than a defense of freedom and democracy, as Nixon claimed. 125 eyewitness reports of atrocities were presented at the "Winter Soldier Investigation" in Detroit in 1971, organized by Vietnam Veterans Against the War.Senator John Kerry, an anti-war Vietnam vet at the time, described those hearings in his Senate testimony in 1971.

The only recent report confirming Vietnam atrocities was the "Tiger Force" story that won the Toledo Blade a Pulitzer prize in 2004. Tiger Force was an elite unit of the 101st Airborne division that, according to the Blade, "killed unarmed civilians and children during a seven-month rampage." That story also revealed that army officials failed to stop the atrocities and then failed to prosecute soldiers found to have committed war crimes. That story recently was told in a book, Tiger Force: A True Story of Men and War. The new revelations in the LA Times are much broader and deal, not with a single unit, but rather with every division that fought in Vietnam.

As for Iraq today, reports of war crimes committed there by US forces have appeared recently. The LA Times has been covering a family of four in Baghdad murdered by US military, including a 14-year-old girl apparently raped first, and her 5-year old sister shot in the head. The incident has gotten a lot of coverage in Iraq.

The records of the Vietnam War Crimes Working Group that Nick Turse discovered in the National Archives, and that provided the basis for the L.A. Times story, have now been closed to the public, on the grounds that they contain personal information exempt from release under the Freedom of Information Act.

The Vietnam documents inevitably raise the question of whether we are getting the full story now about Iraq, and whether the military has changed its Vietnam-era practices of secret investigations of atrocities concluding with no punishment for the guilty. We may have to wait another 40 years to find out.

Culture of Corruption Claims Another Congressman

Three months ago, back when Republicans were dismissing the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal and this whole "culture of corruption" thing as a Democratic fantasy, Ohio Congressman Bob Ney earned a standing ovation from members of the House Republican Caucus after he announced that he had no plans to resign even if he was indicted over his dealings with Jack Abramoff.

Never mind that federal prosecutors had described Ney in court documents as having accepted gifts, trips and other things of value from Abramoff and his equally controiversial associates.

Never mind that Ney and his top aides, including his chief of staff, have been subpoenaed as part of the examination of the Abramoff case.

Republicans were on board with Ney – just as they were on board with all the other members of their caucus who have been linked directly or through their staffs with the Washington lobbying scandal.

"I'm supporting Bob Ney as he runs for reelection,"chirped National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Reynolds, R-New York. "Bob Ney is my candidate running for reelection."

Oh, what a difference 90 days can make!

Now, the GOP line is: Bob Who?

After rejecting any suggestion that he had been harmed by the Abramoff scandal for months, Ney suddenly turned course Monday and quit his reelection race. He says he won't quit his post -- as did another Abramoff ally, former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay -- until his term is finished in January. But it is safe to say that Ney's political career is finished.

And Republicans are wasting no time in shoving him aside.

With Ney's withdrawal came the announcement that Republicans were preparing to settle on a replacement candidate – an Ohio legislator named Joy Padgett.

So does the Abramoff scandal have political "legs"?

Ask Bob Ney and the Republicans who are now scrambling to replace him on their ballot line.

Or, better yet, ask Conrad Burns, the conservative Republican senator from Montana who took more political contributions from the Abramoff operation -- $150,000 -- than any other member of Congress.. Burns has plenty of other problems, but there can be little doubt that the scandal has contributed to polls that have him trailing Democratic challenger Jon Tester by seven points.

"The way things are going for Montana's Conrad Burns," opined Butte's Montana Standard newspaper recently, "all challenger Jon Tester may have to do is to stay quiet until November to win the hotly contested seat."

Would You Like a (Grande) Pink Slip With That Latte?

Sometimes I almost want to like Starbucks, purveyor of expensive yet soothingly foamy hot drinks. The company buys some Fair Trade coffee (though not nearly enough). Employees get health insurance even if they only work 20 hours a week. And while it's always horrible when a Starbucks displaces a neighborhood coffee shop with more character, and roots in the community, I've also seen Starbucks in strip malls, on highways and many other places that never had a coffee shop before. A coffee shop is, after all, a civilized spot for people of all ages to gather, talk, read and hang out with one another, and if Starbucks creates more such spaces, that's a good thing. Best of all, as a friend put it, for many of us, Starbucks is not a coffee shop at all, but "an infrastructure of free bathrooms throughout New York City."

Sadly, however, like so many companies that make "social responsibility" a part of their brand identity -- Ben & Jerry's, Whole Foodsand even Philadelphia's vaunted White Dog Cafe -- Starbucks is adamantly anti-union. Daniel Gross found that out the hard way. This weekend, Gross was fired, fellow employees say, after trying for three years to organize his fellow workers at 17th and Broadway, in Manhattan. Gross is the fourth union activist to be fired from the company this year. The workers will continue trying to organize with the IWW (yes, the Wobblies live!) and have some suggestions on how you can help support their campaign, including boycotting Starbucks until it changes its union-busting ways. Students should consider joining the Justice from Bean to Cup campaign, to pressure Starbucks to reinstates the fired union activists, as well as make a more meaningful commitment to Fair Trade coffee.

Speaking of the latter, I've had some complaints from people who didn't read my Fair Trade coffee post carefully and thought I was dismissing all Fair Trade coffee. Duh, of course not. I was serious when I wrote that I'm convening a tasting panel, and am confident we'll have some tasty findings to report. Relax, people: identifying the good stuff can only help, not hurt, the Fair Trade movement by giving the consumer a little more information.

Mad Mel: Beyond Hezbollah

Last week, while hooked to an IV of air-conditioning, web surfing and TV news, I came to a startling conclusion. Mel Gibson is in league with Hezbollah, and the future of Mideast peace hinges upon the total eradication of his cinematic oeuvre. He must never be allowed to eat lunch at Spago again.

Before you tune me out, let me explain. It all started on a dark Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) when Los Angeles County Sheriff's Deputy James Mee (yes, a Jew) pulled Gibson over for speeding. From the very first moment that TMZ.com broke the story, I knew we were onto something far more momentous than just another of Mel's nights of ladies, liquor and Jew-bashing. According to the deep throats at TMZ, higher-ups at the LAPD feared that public disclosure of Gibson's comments would incite a lot of "Jewish hatred" and ordered the police report "doctored" and "sanitized" because the current situation in Israel was "way too inflammatory." Caution or cover-up?

Exposed to the bright lights of Hollywood, Mel's remarks were roundly condemned by Tinsel Town elite. But it was Ari Emanuel, talent agent, brother of Congressman Rahm Emanuel and inspiration for HBO's Entourage, who first connected Gibson's words with the week's second most important story, the conflict in Lebanon. In an article for Huffington Post, "The Bottom Line on Mel Gibson's Anti-Semitic Remarks," Emanuel wrote "at a time of escalating tensions in the world, the entertainment industry cannot idly stand by and allow Mel Gibson to get away with such tragically inflammatory statements." He was echoed by Hollywood big-wigs like Sony Pictures Chairwoman Amy Pascal who said, "It's incredibly disappointing that somebody of his stature would speak out that way, especially at this sensitive time." But Emanuel and Pascal only scratched the surface of Mel's diabolical plot. What would happen in Lebanon if Hollywood allowed Gibson to get away with his "tragically inflammatory statements"? Enquiring minds want to know.

Luckily, HuffPo's Queen Arianna uncovered the connections. Declaring the "Gibson affair" Hollywood's "defining moment," she concluded that Mel Gibson and Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah are "psychological soul mates." "Gibson's no-longer-deniable brand of bigotry," she wrote "continues to fuel much of the strife and suffering in the world today." Huffington seems to think that world peace is just one Netflix boycott of Braveheart away. "In the same way that ordinary Muslims need to separate themselves from the blood-drenched ideology of Hezbollah, Hollywood needs to separate itself from the odious racism of Gibson." You hear that residents of Qana? Tired of Israeli bombs and Hezbollah terrorist tactics, just change the channel.

Her blog-mate Bill Maher exposes even more. It's not just Gibson who's in cahoots with Nasrallah, it's all of us. As Maher watches "so much of the world ask Israel for restraint in a way no other country would," he comes to the conclusion that "the world IS Mel Gibson." "Most of the time," Maher says, "the anti-Semitism [sic] is under control, but that demon lives inside and when the moon is full, or there's been enough alcohol consumed, or Israel is forced to kill people in its own defense, then it comes out." So there you have it. If you're worried that you too might be a closet anti-Semite, then mind the lunar cycle, lay off the Jack Daniels and for heaven's sake, don't criticize Israeli foreign policy.

But wait, there's another figure in this shadiest of conspiracies. According to Richard Cohen of the Washington Post, "the world is having a Mel Gibson moment." By "the world" Cohen does not just mean the tendency of "the world" to "blame Israel alone for the carnage in Lebanon" (as Gibson blames the Jews for "all the wars in the world") or even the prevailing "anti-Israel zeitgeist" that Gibson "put his finger to." Cohen is referring to the granddaddy of all conspirators -- the UN and its mastermind, Kofi Annan. Yes, according to Cohen, "before Gibson there was Kofi Annan." Cohen stops shorts of accusing Annan of anti-Semitism, but he does find some commonalities between the UN Secretary General and the star of What Women Want: "a rush to judgment, an impatience, an anger and a general vexation that, at best, is worrisome." In Cohen's troubled mind, when Kofi Annan prematurely claimed that Israel deliberately targeted UN observers in an airstrike on southern Lebanon (killing four of them), he was "having a mini-Mel Gibson moment."

I think Cohen is on to something. Who knows what other international fiascos can be explained by this new syndrome? When George Bush molested German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a recent G8 confab, was he too "having a mini-Mel Gibson moment"?

Now, I'm normally averse to conspiracy theories, but all these reputable folks got me thinking -- maybe Mel Gibson plays a far bigger role in geopolitics than any of us had previously thought? For example, during his drunken diatribe, Mel Gibson revealed that he "owns Malibu." Could the city of Malibu, like Syria and Iran, be funding Hezbollah? Could this be the nefarious purpose behind those mysterious "Team Aniston" baby-Ts worn by so many a Malibu mom? What about all that Aramaic spoken and subtitled in Passion of the Christ? Do any of us really understand reconstructed Aramaic? How do we know that the whole movie wasn't a set of coded instructions intended for Muqtada al-Sadr? And don't even get me started on what a repeat viewing of Lethal Weapon 4 revealed!

But then, I got thinking even some more, and well, I'm no Mideast scholar or Entertainment Tonight reporter, but it seems to me that, though Mel Gibson and Hezbollah both hate the Jews, they do so for totally different reasons. As far as I can tell, Gibson hates Jews because they killed Christ, because they "started all the wars in the world," because they "run Hollywood," and because they have the audacity to pull him over for doing 87 mph in a 45 mph zone in his Lexus LS 430 with a .12 blood-alcohol level. These are not, as far as I know, the concerns that preoccupy Hezbollah, Hamas or even the Palestinian National Authority.

Alright, in all seriousness, what is the link between Hezbollah, Kofi Annan, Israel and Mel Gibson? Allow me to suggest another global conspiracy called "culture." As a fellow critic said to me, "Americans only understand the cult of celebrity, so they transpose everything into the key of Hollywood." So here we are, trapped in this meta-Mel moment. The press relentlessly dissects every minute detail of Mel Gibson's evening, from his choice of liquor to his glassy-eyed mugshot. Reporters feverishly pursue the roots of Gibson's anti-Semitism (his father, right-wing Catholicism, Holocaust denialism, Australian white supremacy). Through Mel Gibson's vehicle, we ponder such universal questions as: What responsibilities come with fame? What is the nature of forgiveness? What are the limits of rehabilitation?

All the while, the conflict in Lebanon rages on. And it is not just that this foray into Gibson's psyche provides a distraction from violence and suffering, but that the forced synergy between the two transforms the very field of meaning in which we might place Israel's offensive and Hezbollah's militancy. Gone are Israel's forty-year occupation of Palestinian lands, the dispute over Sheba farms, the popularity of Hamas and Hezbollah as political and social movements, the mutual capture and detention of military prisoners, the possibility of war crimes, the asymmetry of power, the suffering and ambivalence of civilians on both sides. What is left when the pundit class finishes forcing the Mideast conflict through the Hollywood machine is simply this: the eternal, omnipresent meta-narrative of Jewish suffering. As Rick Salutin of The Globe and Mail writes, the Mel Gibson incident "reinforced a sense that an ancient, ineradicable hatred of Jews lurks behind the current strife." I would add that the Gibson flap also reinforced the idea (see Maher and Cohen) that to criticize Israel is to engage in anti-Semitism, to join Gibson in his irrational, primordial hatred of Jews.

It seems to me that there was a brief moment --when the bombing of Lebanon began, when the images of Lebanese children in body bags flickered across TV news -- that the American public might finally grasp the extent to which Lebanese and Palestinian Arabs have suffered as result of Israel's policies. That moment is now gone -- in no small measure due to the fallout from the Mel Gibson crisis. But I don't blame Mel; I blame the delusional, infotainment-centered press corps. Wake me up when September comes.

The Other Lamont

The Nation's been going since 1865.

But, if it hadn't been for Hammond Lamont, great-great uncle ofConnecticut Democratic senatorial hopeful Ned Lamont, we might be telling adifferent story.

When Nation Editor Wendell Phillips Garrison was ready to retire in 1906, after "41 years of unrelaxed application" in the weekly's service, he wanted to let The Nation die because he could think of nobody "fit to carry on who would respect it and its traditions." Whereupon Oswald Garrison Villard, then a regular writer for the magazine, who later became its owner and editor in 1918, suggested that he consider Hammond Lamont. (Hammond had done newspaper work in Seattle and Albany, and was managing editor of the Evening Post.) After some reflection, Garrison changed his mind and asked Lamont to become The Nation's third editor. As one report had it, Lamont was no firebrand --one report characterized him as a "noble, kindly, conservative gentleman," But he understood The Nation's role, its traditions and kept the magazine alive {Sadly, he died just three years later, during what had been expected to be a minor operation on his jaw.}

This week, The Nation--along with thousands of others acrossthis country --is poised to celebrate Ned Lamont's victory over longtime incumbent JoeLieberman. But there'll also be celebration of another Lamont --one whokept America's oldest weekly alive and kicking so we could mark thisgood day.

Desperate Measures

Joe Lieberman, down in the polls and desperate as Tuesday's Connecticut Senate primary approaches, tried on Sunday to remake himself as something he has not been for a very long time: A true-blue Democrat who respects dissent in his own party and the country as a whole.

Accusing his anti-war primary challenger, Ned Lamont, of waging "a distortion campaign against me," the Bush administration's favorite Democratic senator grumbled, "Now I understand that many Democrats in Connecticut disagree with me and are very angry about the war. I don't think there is anything I can say to change your mind about whether we should have gone to war or when we should bring the troops home, and at this point I'm not going to insult you by trying. What I will say is this: I not only respect your right to disagree or question the President, I value it. I was part of the anti-war movement in the late 1960s, so I don't need to be lectured by Ned Lamont about the place of dissent in our democracy."

With the primary just two days away, the senator professed to be shocked, shocked by suggestions that he might be something less than a diehard Democrat.

"The more I have talked to voters in these closing days, the more I am concerned they have been shortchanged in this campaign," said Lieberman. "Instead of hearing an honest debate about the issues that really matter to people, they have been overwhelmed with bogus charges about my Democratic credentials. Instead of having an honest discussion about your future, we're getting negative politics at its worst."

The new Democratic Joe Lieberman is a far cry from the Joe Lieberman who has spent the past four years as the pet Democrat of the conservative Fox News combine -- grinning, nodding and chirping his approval as conservative commentator Sean Hannity has trashed war critics and accused Democrats who challenge the Bush White House of something akin to treason.

Consider this sample from the transcipt of a February 10, 2006, appearance by Lieberman on Hannity's radio program:

HANNITY: I agree with you, and Senator, this is why I am very appreciative of the positions you've taken in the war on terror in the last number of years. And I know you've taken a lot of political heat from it from within your party. You've heard of Howard Dean's comments about you, for crying out loud.

LIEBERMAN: (Laughter)

HANNITY: I mean he could barely come out and support you. And, you know, Karl Rove said that Democrats have a pre-9/11 worldview, and he said, it doesn't make them unpatriotic, but it makes them wrong.

LIEBERMAN: Yeah.

HANNITY: He believes, profoundly consistently wrong. And I think the latest example of this is, we can kill members of Al Qaeda, but we've got Democrats up in arms over the idea that if Al Qaeda calls into the United States from an outside country, that, boy, we'd better get a court order to listen to them. It's absurd to me.

LIEBERMAN: Yeah...

In the course of the same program last winter, Hannity offered to campaign for Lieberman, telling the neoconservative senator: "If you ever want me to do anything, for you and your re-election, I think we ought to have Conservatives for Lieberman, a big fundraiser in Connecticut, and if I could ever do that, I'd make it the biggest blowout celebration ever."

Lieberman responded by thanking Hannity and telling the Fox personality: "You're a great guy. It would just be fun to be with you."

Perhaps even more amusing than the sudden sympathy for Democrats and dissenters displayed by Lieberman in his pre-primary speech was his newfound anger over the stolen election of 2000.

"I am the only Democrat in America to run against George Bush in a national election twice," said Lieberman, referencing his 2000 Democratic campaign for the vice presidency and his miserable 2004 run for the party's presidential nod. "I even beat him and Dick Cheney once, if all the votes had been counted."

The senator's right, of course. Al Gore would have become the president, and Lieberman the vice president, if all the votes in Florida had been counted in December, 2000, with an eye toward producing a result that reflected the sentiments of the electorate. But what Lieberman failed to mention on Sunday was that he has, for years, been Joey-on-the-spot when George W. Bush has needed an election ally.

During the 2000 presidential campaign, vice presidential candidate Lieberman parted company with his running mate to tell the Wall Street Journal that Gore's populist rhetoric wasn't sincere. Don't take Gore seriously, Lieberman promised, Democrats could be counted on to deliver for corporate America.

During the Florida recount fight of that year, Lieberman told Democrats to back off their challenges to Republican efforts to count votes that were cast late or illegally.

During the 2004 presidential campaign, after Democrats had overwhelmingly rejected Lieberman's candidacy for their party's nomination, the senator traveled to the battleground state of Florida three weeks before the election and told a predominantly Jewish crowd in Delray Beach that criticism of Bush's Middle East policies were "unjustified." "We are dealing with a president who's had a record of strong, consistent support for Israel," Lieberman argued. "You can't say otherwise."

It is not surprising that Joe Lieberman waited until the end of this summer's Connecticut primary campaign to complain about "bogus charges about my Democratic credentials." He's hoping that no one has time to check out the charges before election day. If they do, they will find that there is nothing "bogus" about the Lamont campaign's detailing of Lieberman's penchant for carrying water for Bush and the neoconservatives.

Joe Lieberman is hoping that Connecticut Democrats won't recall his record when the vote on Tuesday.

If they do, he's as doomed as the polls suggest.

Three Cheers for Harry

The familiar hallmark of Republican politics is what I call "roll-call slander." The party of Jesse Helms and Newt Gingrich, Lee Atwater and Karl Rove, pioneered the use of ridiculous legislative roll calls to put incumbent Democrats on the spot--recorded votes that can be used against them in the next election. The purpose is not to enact legislation but to generate demagogic fodder for Republican challengers.

Did you know your senator voted in favor of burning the American flag? Well, he did. Here is the Senate roll-call to prove it. Elect me and I promise to stand by our flag.

Sometimes, this works or makes Dems scurry for cover. More often, it simply revs up the GOP troops, like waving a piece of bloody meat before a pack of hungry dogs. The technique turns representative democracy into a cheap cartoon.

This week in the Senate, the Republican strategists reached a new nadir of cynicism with their proposal to raise the minimum wage for the working poor in the same bill that slashes the estate tax for billionaires.

How cute is that? Republicans loathe the minimum wage, of course, but they figured this could sucker a handful of wobbly Democrats into going along with them on gutting the estate tax. Or else face the wrath of their constituents. The GOP tricksters failed by four votes.

I say, hurrah for Harry Reid, the Senate Democratic leader. Democrats hung together and blocked this ugly maneuver-–a rare moment of solidarity when some of them were seriously tempted to defect. Republicans might try again in the fall, but they are running out of gimmicks.

The GOP is fearful this fall's elections will seriously weaken its House and Senate majorities, so this might be their last chance to crumple the estate tax. The party has collected hundreds of millions in contributions from the small number of very, very rich families obsessed with repeal. A handful of Dems wanted to vote for them too. They will probably be targeted in the fall campaign but with this twist: Did you know your senator voted against poor people?

The cloakroom politics surrounding this issue was intense, but minority leader Reid was the stand-up guy. We don't know what he said privately. Presumably, nobody's arm was broken. But Harry Reid kept the wannabe stray cats in line. How refreshing. A party leader who stands and fights, who warns wayward colleagues they better not sell out.

DeLay, Coulter, Kristol Defend Lieberman

The polls show Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman is falling far behind anti-war challenger Ned Lamont as the state's August 8 Democratic primary approaches.

But it's not all bad news for the embattled senator. At least Tom DeLay's rooting for him.

The former House majority leader from Texas is a Republican who may not agree with the Bush White House's favorite Democrat on every issue but who thinks the Senator is right-on when it comes to foreign policy.

"[Lieberman's] very good on the war," DeLay said during an interview this week on the Fox News Channel's "Hannity & Colmes" program.

With the Connecticut primary, in which Iraq War-enthusiast Lieberman trails war-critic Lamont by 13 points in the latest poll, just days away, the incumbent's neoconservative allies are rushing to his defense.

Lieberman's latest campaign contribution list features a $500 donation from Bill Kristol, the editor of the Weekly Standard, a publication so Pravda-like in its cheerleading for the Iraq imbroglio – and for an attack on Iran -- that Vice President Dick Cheney has stacks of each new edition delivered to the White House for distribution to the staff.

Conservative columnist Ann Coulter's defending Lieberman, as well, going on at some length during an interview with Fox's Neal Cavuto to explain how much she admires the senator and suggesting that, instead of fighting for the Democratic nomination in Connecticut, Lieberman ought to switch parties. "I think he should come all the way and become a Republican," argues Coulter, who says of Lieberman and the GOP: "at least he'd fit in with the party."

Even though it comes from Coulter, that's not entirely crazy talk. In February of this year, Connecticut Republican Congressman Chris Shays told editors of the Stamford Advocate newspaper that he would be voting for Lieberman this year and urged other Republicans to do the same. The Hartford Courant reported on February 28 that "GOP officials have discussed cross-endorsing Democratic Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman this fall."

The Courant story, which broke before a cross-endorsement deal could be brokered, squelched it for the time being. "One GOP operative who was aware of the discussions said premature public disclosure of the possible cross-endorsement probably would kill the idea. That seems to be case," the paper observed last winter.

But with Lamont pulling ahead in the polls, and with the Lieberman's backers circulating petitions to run him as an independent if he loses the Democratic nod, some Connecticut Republicans have again been discussing the prospect that a defeated Lieberman might find a new political home on the GOP line. The campaign of the endorsed Republican candidate for the Connecticut Senate seat, former legislator Alan Schlesinger, has been rocked by charges that he may have a serious gambling problem. Connecticut's Republican Governor Jodi Rell suggested in July that Schlesinger might want to consider quitting the race. Schlesinger stayed in for the time being. But all bets could be off if Lieberman – a Senate supporter the Bush White House does not want to lose -- suddenly becomes available.