October 28 - November 4, 1998

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The Body Politic

by Bill Collins

Want A Friend - Stay Away From Joe!
Sex and scandal,
What a mess;
Worse can be,

It was Harry Truman who said, "If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog." Bill Clinton did that, but it was too late. He was already stuck with Joe Lieberman.

Clinton probably felt he could expect some measure of loyalty from the senator. He had worked in Lieberman's first campaign for state senate. They had labored together to set up and sustain the Democratic Leadership Council, They consulted often on affairs of state. Their relationship was both personal and political. In most cultures, one blossom of such a rela-tionship would be personal loyalty.

But not in Washington. In that hothouse, loyalty is a rare blossom indeed. Friendship runs a slow second to personal advancement. Thus, seeing a chance to consolidate his position as self-appointed moral authority of the Senate, Lieberman turned on his old friend. It's the stuff of playwrights.

Editors have largely been supportive. Some have compared him to Hugh Scott, Barry Goldwater, and, of course, Lowell Weicker, who all turned on their president over Watergate. Commentators have showered praise on him for placing country over party.

Such praise is misplaced. Watergate was serious stuff. It involved the criminal attempt to change the course of an election. It sat roughly in the company of the Iran-Contra affair, where a president ran an illegal war from the White House basement. Or perhaps the recently revealed disclosures of President Nixon orchestrating the overthrow of democracy in Chile. The Lewinsky affair, thank God, is different. It's about sex. And lying about sex - If truth about sex were required for positions of public trust, the Halls of Congress would echo from lack of occupancy. More than a few pulpits across the nation would also fall silent. Mr. Lieberman himself made oblique reference to unnamed indiscretions of his own. So have many other congressmen and senators, as though their muttered admission of sin somehow gave them clearance to cast the first stone.

It didn't. Perhaps if Mr. Lieberman and others would care to detail their own transgressions, their words would carry more weight. As it is, they ring hollow. At the very least, hundreds of lawmakers, Mr. Lieberman included, have forsaken their wedding vows.

Also instructive is the high state of anxiety among Republicans. They fear that the White House may have launched an investigation of its own into their sexual misbehavior. It is alleged that many, from the Speaker on down, have a lot to hide. Already three of the most self-righteous, Reps. Dan Burton, Helen Chenowith, and Henry Hyde, have been found out and severely discredited.

But among his former political allies back home, Mr. Lieberman's be-trayal of the president is not his worst deed. Rather, it's his betrayal of principle. His forsaking the president, they can (barely) endure. Forsak-ing the worker, the poor, and world peace, they can't. Just last week the senator joined the Republicans in voting to expand Star Wars. But years ago he stood in the very room where this column is being written, to speak movingly in support of reform and compassion.
Now he is the handmaiden of the political old guard and the titans big business.

Thus when it comes to moral values, the president may make the juicier target, but the senator may be the greater danger to society.

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