Feingold, Lieberman, and Bill Clinton
In September of 1998, Joe Lieberman made a speech in which he said Bill Clinton's actions with Monica Lewinsky were "wrong and unacceptable and should be followed by some measure of public rebuke and accountability." The Lieberhater crowd has repeatedly said that Lieberman "stabbed Clinton in the back" by daring to make that speech, and have used the speech to argue that Lieberman was a disloyal Democrat who helped push the GOP drive towards impeachment.
Such a charge could easily be dismissed as patently false without exposing the implicit hypocrisy behind it. Lieberman never supported the impeachment efforts. He voted to dismiss the charges and end the trial every time such a motion came before the Senate, and he voted against both counts during the impeachment trial (here and here).
In fact, Lieberman never supported impeachment, resignation, or any other official reprimand of Clinton during the months leading up to the impeachment trial. He merely believed that the President's personal conduct with Lewinsky was morally damaging to the country, and felt compelled to say so publicly.
Basically, I agree with what he said...I have nothing else to say except that I can't disagree with anyone else who wants to be critical of what I have already acknowledged was indefensible. There's nothing that he or anyone else could say in a personally critical way that - I don't imagine - that I would disagree with, since I have already said it myself, to myself.As Mr. Gerstein noted, many have actually credited Lieberman's speech as providing the Democrats with the position that allowed them to save the Clinton Presidency: Separate the legitimate questions about his personal conduct from the illegitimate legal attacks. Most Congressional Democrats echoed Lieberman's sentiments in the months to come, allowing the Democrats to criticize Clinton without fueling the GOP's drive towards impeachment. No Democrat who knows Lieberman, Clinton included, thought that his statements were indicative of anything but the concerns of a loyal friend and political ally.
But even if we were to accept the absurd characterization of Lieberman's actions as "stabbing Clinton in the back," then Russ Feingold stabbed Clinton in the back, twisted the knife, and shot him with an Uzi.
Among Democrats, Feingold was the most persistent and vocal critic of Clinton and the greatest Democratic proponent of continuing the GOP investigations throughout the period from 1997-1999. During the Lewinsky scandal in particular, Feingold was Clinton's strongest and earliest Democratic critic.
And yes, this is the same Russ Feingold who is a hero of the progressive blogosphere.
When the scandal first broke, Feingold said, "If there is any proof that (Clinton) lied under oath, I will have no trouble voting on his impeachment," making him the only Senate Democrat to openly consider that most extreme measure.
He later said that Clinton should seriously consider resigning. Even in the wake of the House impeachment vote, when Clinton was at his most politically vulnerable, Feingold refused to say say that Clinton shouldn't resign - even as fellow Wisconsin Senator Herb Kohl strongly insisted that Clinton should remain in office.
After Clinton apologized for the first time, Lieberman showed his appreciation for Clinton's words, saying it marked the "beginning of a healing process." But Feingold didn't show any appreciation for Clinton "just saying he's sorry." He said:
Explanation rather than contrition is the key...not just saying he's sorry but adequately saying how it occurred so people can feel more comfortable about it. What he has to answer is how he said one series of things and then changed his story about it. He's got to explain this.At the actual Senate trial, Feingold was the Democrats' Critic-in-Chief, voting to continue the trial and keep the charges on the books right up to the final vote:
- Feingold was the only Democrat to vote against Robert Byrd's motion to dismiss the charges
- Feingold was the only Democrat to support the motion to subpoena witnesses to testify against Clinton
- Feingold was the only Democrat to vote against either of Daschle's motions to proceed to closing arguments - and he voted against both of them (on January 28 and on February 4).
After Clinton's impeachment trial was finally over, Feingold summed up his feelings succintly:
President Clinton has disgraced himself.At every turn during the trial, Joe Lieberman had voted for the Senate and the country to move on, while Russ Feingold voted to let the public humiliation of Clinton continue. Little wonder that Feingold proposed his censure measure against Bush even though he knew it had no chance of passing: Feingold had already proved during the Clinton years that he had no problem using the Senate to support measures with no chance of passing in a divisive effort to humiliate a President. Lieberman had learned in 1998-99 that such futile efforts are "an unproductive use of our time," even if he believes the President to be wrong.
Feingold's intense and repeated slamming of Clinton was far harsher and more damaging than Lieberman's one-shot critique of Clinton's personal conduct. Indeed, Feingold was less forgiving and more encouraging of the GOP efforts to humiliate Clinton than any other Democrat.
But Lieberman is the one bashed in the liberal blogosphere for stabbing Clinton in the back, while Russ Feingold is lauded along with Howard Dean as the standardbearer of the 'netroots'. Online straw polls have repeatedly showed Feingold to be the favored 2008 presidential candidate among members of the liberal blogosphere. This past week, Feingold blew away the competition in a DailyKos poll on the 2008 contenders, while Lieberman was being bashed for feeding "the hate machine" that pushed Clinton's impeachment.
The hypocrisy is absolutely staggering, and there is no rational explanation for it.
The truth, of course, is that their hatred of Lieberman has absolutely nothing to do with Bill Clinton. MoveOn.org donated money to Feingold's campaign account, but endorsed Lieberman's opponent and helped raise money for him. Why? Because just six months earlier, MoveOn had said they would help fund a Lieberman challenger because of Lieberman's position on Iraq.
After impeachment, MoveOn showed that they had no intention of forgetting the reasons the group was started. They started a "We Will Remember" campaign to hold accountable those who did the most to fuel the impeachment fire, and raised money to oppose their re-election. But MoveOn's roots have become a victim of Iraq-induced amnesia.
What really matters now is that Joe Lieberman is a pro-war Democrat, while Feingold is stridently anti-war. Consequently, Feingold's trespasses are forgiven, while even the most minor transgressions of Lieberman are artificially inflated into cardinal sins.
It is groupthink worthy of the Bush administration: Don't examine the evidence, then come to a conclusion. Start with your conclusion, then look for evidence that supports it.
Russ Feingold is good, Joe Lieberman is bad, and all evidence to the contrary be damned.
Such an approach may not be rational, but it's the only way to argue that Joe Lieberman has been anything but a loyal Clinton Democrat.