Last week after I wrote about my battles with Joe Lieberman during my time in the music business, the Huffington Post got a letter of complaint from someone who described himself as a "former associate of Joe Lieberman." They offered this person the opportunity to write a post of his own adressing my comments, but the individual was only interested in the Lieberman default position -- censorship. He demanded my post be cut or retracted. The Huffington Post instead printed my response, entitled No, Senator Lieberman, I Won't Retract My Statement.
Since that time the original letter of complaint has been forwarded to me, and the identity of the person doing Lieberman's dirty work was revealed. The man's name is Dan Gerstein, and I am happy to address his specific complaints, even if he is only interested in censoring and mischaracterizing mine.
In Gerstein's email to the Huffington Post, he said he was concerned
"about Howie Klein's vicious rant against my old boss, Joe Lieberman, that's up on your site now. I am less concerned with Klein's absurb mischaracterizations of Lieberman's position on free speech issues -- which I would be happy to debate him on -- than with his slanderous statements about Lieberman being a racist and a homophobe.
"Those accusations are not open to debate -- they are demonstrably untrue. Lieberman went to Mississippi to register voters in 1963 and then marched with MLK, hardly the work of a racist. In addition, he has long been a leading cosponsor of ENDA, and he introduced a domestic partnership benefits bill for federal employees -- hardly the work of a homophobe. (If necessary I can send you a much longer exposition on Lieberman's record on civil rights.)
"As such, I would ask you to remove those references from Klein's post or take it down. These kind of wild, unsubstantiated, sleazy attacks have no place on a blog that is trying to promote a serious, substantive political debate. Indeed, I have great respect for your site precisely because unlike much of the liberal blogosphere, your commentators have refrained from this kind of ugly vituperation an written on a far higher plane. Please don't let people like Howie Klein drag you down into that gutter."
I want to point out that we're not talking about someone who volunteered to hand out flyers at a Lieberman rally in Stamford once. Dan Gerstein was a senior Democratic strategist who worked with Lieberman for 10 years and collaborated with him on the infamous stab in the back he administered to Bill Clinton at a time when only partisan Republicans were calling for Clinton's impeachment over the Monica Lewinsky brouhaha.
"The President apparently had extramarital relations with an employee half his age, and did so in the workplace, in vicinity of the Oval Office. Such behavior is not just inappropriate. It is immoral. And it is harmful, for it sends a message of what is acceptable behavior to the larger American family, particularly to our children, which is as influential as the negative messages communicated by the entertainment culture."
Gerstein is proud of his co-authorship of this particular speech and boasts of it quite prominently in his online bio.
His own website goes on to proclaim that:
He was the chief architect of Lieberman's high-profile values agenda, helping to craft the Vchip law and initiating an FTC investigation into the marketing of adult-rated entertainment products to children. He was a leading strategist behind the passage of the groundbreaking No Child Left Behind education reform bill.
The one other bit of context, also in Dan's own words, that I'd like to ask you to consider is the recent editorial attack he made in the WALL STREET JOURNAL against Democratic netroots activists claiming that listening to the reviews of the Democrats' performance in the Alito hearings make it easy to come away thinking much of our party "is living in a parallel universe."
One thing I always noticed about people who are naturally predisposed towards the political right is that they inevitably seem to think that when they are called on their crap they can declare, as if by fiat, that reality is something more malleable than it is. In his letter, Dan attributes "slanderous statements [to me] about Lieberman being a racist and a homophobe. Those accusations are not open to debate."
Is that so? Let's debate them anyway.
Now I never called Dan's old boss a racist, of course (Dan, who prides himself at being a communications expert, made that up to make a point). What I said was that Lieberman "made racism quasi-acceptable by framing it as being against unfair affirmative action." Dan points out that in 1963 Lieberman "marched with Martin Luther King, hardly the work of a racist" (Dan's strawman again). Well today Joe Lieberman marches with George W. Bush. And between his heady student days in the 60's and his taking up residence deep in Bush's posterior, he had been marching with William F. Buckley, Rick Santorum, Lynn Cheney and Bill Bennett.
I'm not an African-American. But I'll invoke Dr. Manning Marable, Professor of History and Political Science and the Director of the Institute for Research in African-American Studies at Columbia University, as he assessed what Lieberman's addition to the Gore ticket meant for African-Americans in 2000:
I looked at the staged New York Times photograph of Senator Lieberman standing before the meeting of the Congressional Black Caucus at the recent Democratic National Convention. Standing o either side of Lieberman are Labor Secretary Alexis M. Herman and Congresswoman Maxine Waters. Only hours before, Herman and Waters had engaged in a spirited public disagreement over the selection of Lieberman. In the photo, Herman looks relieved, and Waters appears sad. Perhaps Maxine reflects the grim realization of other black Democrats, who are now forced to campaign for candidates and a party platform they privately oppose. All they are left with is to frighten black voters to the polls with the spectre of a Republican victory.
They don't realize the obvious: the Republicans have already won. By accepting Lieberman onto the ticket, as NATION writer David Corn states, Gore "has accepted -- or surrendered to -- the Bush terms of battle." Bush, Cheney, Gore and Lieberman, in the end, only reflect variations of the same bankrupt political philosophy.
Prophetic though he was, I'm sure Dr. Marable would be consigned to Dan's parallel universe as well. But my original point remains -- Lieberman made his bones as a conservative in the Democratic party whose opposition to affirmative action gave racists in the GOP cover for their anti-civil rights agendas by providing them a "quasi-acceptable" frame. That's what I said in my original piece and I stand by it.
Now, I am more qualified to speak about Lieberman as a homophobe because I am a gay American. Lieberman's condescending statement to the New Haven Advocate that "some of my best friends are gays and lesbians" just goes to show how out-of-touch and patently dishonest he is. My gay friends and I remember -- viscerally remember -- the emotions that Lieberman stirred up by labeling us as some kind of a dysfunction that society had to be protected from.
If not for George H.W. Bush's veto, Lieberman's viciously homophobic (and youthophobic and free-speech-o-phobic) Media Marketing Accountability Act, which I'm gathering from his website might actually have been Dan's idea, would be another law singling out gay people for special treatment -- i.e., that they can't be mentioned in songs, at least not in songs that songwriters want sold in the vast majority of retail accounts. And special treatment is something Lieberman feels is needed for gay Americans, something I could understand -- though still abhor -- from a senator from Utah or Alabama, but not from an enlightened, progressive state like Connecticut.
In 1996 Joe "Some of My Best Friends Are" Lieberman voted for the reprehensible Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). We know Lieberman is not a real friend of gay men and women. When a guy like Paul Hackett from a deep red Ohio backwater says "gay marriage -- who the hell cares? If you're gay you're gay -- more power to you. What you want is to be treated fairly by the law and any American who doesn't think that should be the case is, frankly, un-American," we know we have a real friend we can trust. Lieberman is, at best, equivocal.
New York's Gay City News pointed out how even Dick Cheney sounded like a staunch defender of gay rights as he stood next to Lieberman in their Vice-Presidential debate:
...when questioned about government sanction of same-sex couples in the 2000 Vice Presidential debate, [Lieberman] gave a weaker answer than Dick Cheney, father of out lesbian Mary Cheney. The Republican said, 'I think we ought to do everything we can to tolerate and accommodate whatever kind of relationships people want to enter into,' incurring the wrath of the religious right. (His administration, of course, has done nothing to advance same-sex partner rights.) Lieberman in that same debate said his mind 'is open to taking some action that will address these elements of unfairness while respecting the traditional religious and civil institution of marriage.'
In a Boston Globe survey last week, Lieberman stopped short of endorsing even civil unions.
He still opposes the right of gay men and women to marry. I wonder what all his best friends must think.
Lieberman thinks of himself as part of some kind of morality-squad empowered by the electorate to set the values for the country. He may have qualified as a progressive when he was in his 20s. He has amassed quite a record since then for reactionary thought and action, including the founding with Lynne Cheney of a group which published a list of college professors whom right-wingers deem un-Americanan. It's a record that will help catapult Ned Lamont into the U.S. Senate and give Lieberman an opportunity to clean-up on the rubber chicken circuit with like-minded, atavistic reactionaries like Zell Miller and Bill Bennett.
And since Dan Gerstein has been wholly unsuccessful in his attempts to get me silenced and censored, I will still be quite happy to debate him. May I suggest that we ask for the opening act slot at the Ministry concert in D.C.? And if you, like me, no longer want to see Daan's old boss on the morning talk shows piously intoning Republican claptrap to demonize his Democratic colleagues and their positions, please consider visiting the DWT ACT BLUE Page for Ned Lamont, who will face off against Lieberman in the August 8th Democratic primary in Connecticut and can use all the $10 and $20 contributions he can muster against the donations of the big money interests whose favorite senator is being challenged.
Howie Klein blogs at DOWN WITH TYRANNY.