“What Joe Didn’t Know, and When He Didn’t Know It” by J.J. Goldberg

Reference: Jewish Daily Forward

December 20, 2009

Say it ain’t so, Joe! Just nine years ago, Senator Lieberman of Connecticut was a national symbol of moral integrity and punchy independence, the Senate’s very first openly observant Jew, the first Jew to appear on a major party presidential ticket, the first senior Democrat to rebuke President Bill Clinton’s naughty bits. Now, in less than a decade, he’s gone from punchy to punchline. Half the nation is agog, asking: Where have you gone, Joe Lieberman? Where’s the old Joe we used to know?

In fact, there was another side to the old Joe that most of us never knew. I first got a peek at it back in 1991, a few weeks after the end of the First Gulf War, at a festive dinner in Brooklyn. But I get ahead of myself. I’ll tell you my story at the end.

First, let’s review the events of the past week. It was a week in which, as The New York Times’s Gail Collins put it, “Lieberman’s apparently successful attempt to hijack health care reform and hold it hostage until it had been amended into something that liberals couldn’t stomach has mesmerized the nation’s political class.”

Why did he do it? Collins, in that column on December 16 (which happened to be Beethoven’s 239th birthday) said there so many theories that she had “decided to start a rumor” that during Lieberman’s failed 2004 presidential bid he was “bitten by either a rabid muskrat or a vampire disguised as a moose.” Ouch.

Yup, liberals were steamed — even on the decorous Senate floor, where Lieberman asked for an extra minute to finish a thought and was slapped down by freshman Senator Al Franken of Minnesota. (You remember Franken. The ex-comic who narrowly beat incumbent Republican Norm Coleman last year and tweaked Coleman by telling voters, “I’m the only New York Jew in this race who was actually born in Minnesota.”)

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