DURING THE RECENT Democratic National Convention, much attention was
focused on the mantle of ``morality'' worn by Sen. Joe Lieberman.
To be sure, Vice President Al Gore showed spectacular savvy when
he chose a man who not only shares his centrist position on most
issues, but who is Jewish in the bargain, as well as a scrappy
campaigner -- and who had broken ranks with the Democrats to chastise
Clinton for the Monica Lewinsky affair.
If Lieberman's admonishment of President Clinton two years ago was
perhaps calculated to win a bipartisan base, it also seemed to arise
from genuine moral outrage. He said his own anger and disappointment
had widened to concern for the damage to Clinton's presidency, and
for the impact of Clinton's actions on ``our democracy and its moral
He likened Clinton's failure as a moral authority for children to
the role of the entertainment industry in undermining ``the stability
and integrity of the family,'' observing that children are quick to
perceive a ``double standard.'' The word moral appears half a dozen
times in the address.
Politically, it is hard to argue with either man's choice --
Lieberman's choosing to distance himself from Clinton, and Gore's
subsequent choice of Lieberman. But whether this places Gore and
Lieberman on the moral high ground is highly questionable. We may
share Lieberman's condemnation of Clinton's moral lapses, his concern
for violence and smut in the media and for the breakdown of the
family in our society. But let us not confuse the media's insatiable
hunger for scandal with morality. Let us not reduce morality to sex.
And if we are going to condemn a president's follies, let us judge
the actions of all
politicians -- including our own Sen. Lieberman's -- to see whether
they promote or undermine the stability and integrity of the family
and the moral foundations of our nation.
Is it ``moral'' that today's wages, adjusted for inflation, are lower
than in 1960, even as the salaries of CEOs have risen to obscene
heights during the eight years of the Clinton administration? Is it
``moral'' that working parents often have little time for their
children because they have to hold down several jobs to make ends
meet? Is it ``moral'' that the combined assets of Bill Gates and his
two lieutenants at Microsoft is $140 billion, while 1 out of 5
American children grows up in poverty? Is it ``moral'' that criminal
acts by corporations go unpunished, while poor people are jailed for
stealing food or for victimless ``crimes,'' such as possession of
Not all these inequities can be blamed on Clinton. But what steps
has Joe Lieberman taken as senator to rectify this painful disparity
in a nation predicated on opportunity for all? Certainly it does not
help that he has back-pedaled on affirmative action, helped to
dismantle the welfare system without providing supportive training
programs, and joined with the religious right in promoting school
vouchers to the detriment of public schools in districts that can
least afford it.
He has also opposed medical insurance reform, except in
friendly versions, and argued against permitting patients to sue HMOs
for punitive damages. One of Lieberman's biggest campaign
contributors is the insurance industry, from which he has collected
$197,000 during this campaign. It is no wonder that Lieberman has
been extolled by Republicans for his ``morality.'' His voting record
is more Republican than Democrat.
To anyone from Connecticut who was
listening closely to Al Gore's acceptance speech, it was clear that
Gore was distinguishing his positions not only from those of the
Republicans, but from those of his running mate. Lieberman will have
to accept these positions, just as he will have to accept Hollywood
money. Expediency will rule over ethics, as in his decision to run
simultaneously for the Senate -- which could allow Republican Gov.
John Rowland to appoint a replacement.
Is it ``moral'' that the U.S. arms industry's share of arms sales
worldwide jumped from 16 percent to 63 percent in the 10 years
following 1988? Is it ``moral'' that we currently sell $10 billion in
weapons to nondemocratic governments every year? It's one thing to
adjust George Washington's opposition to a peacetime army to the
demands of the Cold War. It's quite another to extend the Cold War
indefinitely, in the cold pursuit of profits.
That is precisely the intended effect of the destabilizing ``Star
Wars'' missile defense system first promoted by Ronald Reagan, and
now, in its latest version, supported by both Clinton and Gore --
even as billions go unspent on social needs on both sides of a world
sorely in need of peace.
Don't expect Joe Lieberman's concern for children and the moral
foundations of our democracy to put any brakes on this tragic,
avoidable slide into another arms race. Connecticut's own economy
remains in thrall to the arms industry; Lieberman as senator has been
as hawkish as he has been pro-business, and has received fat
donations from the state's armsmakers.
These are the roots of violence and social breakdown, as surely as
any sleaze from Clinton or Hollywood. These hypocrisies, along with
the postponement of campaign finance reform, are the true
obscenities, the deep challenges to our democracy.
David Morse is a Connecticut-based journalist who is also the author of a novel, ``The Iron Bridge'' (Harcourt Brace)
©2000 San Francisco Chronicle