In which I apologize to Jesse Jackson

Jackson’s tantrum about Al Gore’s choice of Joe Lieberman for veep put George W. Bush in the White House. But Lieberman’s behavior demonstrates that Jackson wasn’t wrong to portray Lieberman as a crypto-reactionary creep.

In 2000, when Al Gore selected Joe Lieberman as his running-mate, Jesse Jackson decided to throw a tantrum about it, portraying Lieberman as some sort of crypto-reactionary creep.  My reaction at the time was that Jackson was acting like a jerk and helping hand the election to the Republicans.

Of course I had no idea how close the election would be; as things turned out, Jackson’s move was probably the difference between having George W. Bush as President and not having him as President, which means the difference between war with Iraq and no war with Iraq.  So Jackson was, indeed, acting like a jerk.

But, as Joe Lieberman has amply demonstrated, Jackson wasn’t wrong.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

19 thoughts on “In which I apologize to Jesse Jackson”

  1. I dunno. Kevin Sweeney in Salon, 1 Dec 2000: "Jackson traveled more on behalf of Al Gore & Joe Lieberman than anyone other than Gore, including Lieberman. He did more events, logged more miles & put in more nights on the road. At preelection appearances in Florida, he highlighted Jeb Bush's attacks on affirmative action & talked of the need to vote. His efforts led to a rousing turnout among the state's black voters — who voted in higher percentages than the rest of Florida & went from 10 percent of the turnout in 1996 to 15 percent in 2000. He is no moth hovering at the media flame; he is in this case very much the heat. No Jackson, no cliffhanger in Florida. End of story."

    Sweeney may overstate the case, but IIRC, tantrum or no tantrum, Jackson had publicly more or less swallowed his doubts about Lieberman by the end of the Convention. I suppose the outcome might've been different if Jackson, or the left of the party, or the outside left, had been more agreeably constituted, but then again, if my grandmother had wheels, she'd be a bus.

  2. But I thought "something" was better than "nothing?" I thought MoveOn and the like were acting like children.

    First it was the "public option" to be replaced by something no one really understands, then it was an expansion of Medicare while keeping such wasteful programs like Medicare Advantage, and now Baucus and his girlfriend don't want to be late for their dinner reservation and scrap the whole thing.

    But hey, at least Obama won't be killin' grandma.

    Disgusting. Republicans and Democrats – one doesn't even bother to pretend to care.

  3. Excuse me, but why is Gore not the jerk here?

    I recall 2000 a bit differently. Remember the convention that year? As Gore's speeches go, his acceptance of the nomination was a really good one, filled with progressive ideals and optimism. I felt like this guy, while a member of the DLC, was at least willing to seriously address issues important to me. Then what did he do to back the rhetoric up? Yeah, he chose another member of the anti-progressive DLC as his running mate. (While Lieberman's repugnance was inchoate at the time, enough of it was apparent to give any left-leaning Democratic voter pause–remember his creepily sanctimonious performance during the impeachment fiasco?) The choice strongly signaled that Gore, whatever he might have aspired to, was not serious about delivering progressive reform. That choice, as much as any other single action, was what cost Gore the election.

  4. Lieberman is the kid we all knew in school who would always be the one to say, "Teacher, Billy Clinton is looking at Sally Ferguson's legs again."

    The goody-goody sanctimony combined with regressive politics was captured by Calvin Trillin in The Nation in 2000. He wrote his contribution to the tune of "O Tannenbaum" that went in part:'

    Joe Lieberman, Joe Lieberman,

    A Democrat who's newish,

    Joe Lieberman, Joe Lieberman,

    We're awfully glad you're Jewish.

    Though welfare kids may live on gruel,

    At least you'll always go to shul,

    Joe Lieberman, Joe Lieberman,

    Your Shabbas rides are fewish.

    I forget the next stanza but it dealt with the Clinton-Lewinsky affair, and with the Lieberman moralizing on same.

    That holier-than-though persona which quickly turned so many people off did not, for reasons I will never understand, turn them off to Saint Ralph. That led to severe consequences. What was the difference between the two?

    President Gore would have been a disappointment to progressives but (if he had stayed healthy and all) would not have invaded Iraq. (Of course, if Lieberman had succeeded to the presidency, all bets would have been off.)

  5. Mark, this is one of the problems with serious, respectable people. Leiberman has been a back-stabbing bast*rd for at least a decade now. Jesse Jackson has worked hard for good.

    Why can't you say '___ you Lieberman, you back-stabbing ________, and _________ your Aetna-bribe-taking _______ of a wife' without feeling the need to preserve your 'respectability'?

  6. Gore chose Lieberman to distance himself from Clinton's sex scandal. As Philip Roth put it on page 2 of The Human Stain, "In the Congress, in the press, and on the networks, the righteous grandstanding creeps, crazy to blame, deplore, and punish, were everywhere out moralizing to beat the band; … all of them eager to enact the astringent rituals of purification that would excise the erection from the executive branch, thereby making things cozy and safe enough for Senator Lieberman's ten-year-old daughter to watch TV with her embarrassed daddy again."

  7. The question I have now and it is a difficult one is does enough good remain in this bill to counteract the bad of a mandate with no mechanism in place to control premiums. The reason why the public option was so critical is that the government is about to order everyone to pay monopoly rents.

    In fairness it will now be a somewhat regulated monopoly but will there be sufficient safeguards in place to actually protect people. For example let's say the bill passes, I get insurance, and then get sick. If my insurance company still refuses to pay for any of the care what will my options be to collect. Will I need to sue them (as I deal with a major illness and possibly bankruptcy)? Will I need to enter binding arbitration in from of an arbitrator who they've paid? If I'm successful will the fines they incur be greater than the profit they've managed to squeeze out of all the people who couldn't work through the system or died before anything could be decided?

    The mandate, a key piece of the legislation in the pretense of real competition and downward pressure on prices, in its absence becomes a major problem. If progressives can't succeed on the public option then they need to pull it from the bill.

  8. "In fairness it will now be a somewhat regulated monopoly but will there be sufficient safeguards in place to actually protect people."

    Where 'somewhat regulated'is heavy on the 'somewhat'. IIRC, they already publicly stated that they'll continue recission.

    And as I've said again and again on other threads here, this year has been a demonstration that the insurance companies have the clout; the best that the government might be able to do is to keep them from going all Wall St with their money.

  9. "The question I have now and it is a difficult one is does enough good remain in this bill to counteract the bad of a mandate with no mechanism in place to control premiums."

    That would be the wrong question. The question is whether there is enough good in the bill to counteract the fact that if it gets passed with Lieberman's support then every bill for the foreseeable future will involve the Democrats caving to an unprincipled sociopath in order to be able to say that they passed something. At this point forcing spines into the Democrats is far more important than the contents of any particular bill. The time to pretend that comity matters is over; the time to go nuclear is here. There is nothing that takes precedence over going nuclear, not if you want a functional Senate any time in the foreseeable future.

    Of course it's even worse than that because if the bill passes as is then when the Republicans take over the Senate in 2012 they'll very quickly repeal reform before it's ever implemented. If the bill were written by sane people and implemented immediately rather than resorting to delayed implementation as a half-assed budgetary trick that wouldn't be an issue, but sanity is not a part of the equation. And if the Democrats continue as would be indicated by caving to Lieberman, the Republicans most certainly will take control of the House and Senate in 2012 and will repeal "reform" with however many fewer than 60 but more than 50 Senate votes they'll certainly have.

  10. Robert,

    Do you also foresee a Republican President taking office in 2013? If so, who is it? Romney? Huckabee? Palin? Pawlenty?

    I don't envision any Democratic President signing a bill that repeals this thin gruel that's passing for health insurance reform.

  11. If the unemployment rate stay above 7% the Republicans can nominate anyone save Palin (and maybe even her) and win easily.

  12. Robert Johnston says:

    "That would be the wrong question. The question is whether there is enough good in the bill to counteract the fact that if it gets passed with Lieberman’s support then every bill for the foreseeable future will involve the Democrats caving to an unprincipled sociopath in order to be able to say that they passed something."

    This is something that I've felt for months now, and is an extension of my 'BATNA' theme. The Gang of 6 has punked Obama significantly, and we are now at the point where it's Nelson and Lieberman taking turn slapping Obama, with a bunch of other 'centrist' Senators clearly looking on, and wondering if it's time for them to take a turn.

    It's really, really important to understand that there seems to be at least a half-dozen Dem Senators (+ the Maggot from CT) who at best don't mind if Obama does like crap for his first two year. I really think that these guys wouldn't mind Obama being a one-term clean-up schmuck, who deals with the mess in a way favorable for the elites, and who takes the heat for not helping most Americans. And, of course, trashes the Democratic brand. This could lead to a nice restoration in 2012 (if the GOP can come up with somebody better than Palin), and would at the worst make a two-term Obama administration tolerable to the financial eliets. The cultural guys would howl, but that just makes them vote and give money.

    The Gang of 6 can do business with a GOP president at least as well as a Democratic President, and maybe better – there won't be any of that helping ordinary Americans crap.

  13. Dennis says:

    December 15, 2009 at 7:58 am

    "Robert,

    Do you also foresee a Republican President taking office in 2013? If so, who is it? Romney? Huckabee? Palin? Pawlenty?

    I don’t envision any Democratic President signing a bill that repeals this thin gruel that’s passing for health insurance reform."

    One needn't *repeal* anything, just quietly gut it in numerous bills. If Obama won't stand up now, he certainly won't stand up if needed bills each include a few quiet, hard-to-understand lines which each remove a brick in the reform wall. Note that 40 GOP Senators + the Gang O' Six + The Maggot have turned reform into 'thin gruel'. Imagine what another 5 GOP Senators can do, with a president who's made it clear that he won't fight.

  14. "as things turned out, Jackson’s move was probably the difference between having George W. Bush as President and not having him as President"

    I usually blame the 22000 or so Floridians who voted for Nader.

  15. Rick, plese remember that another commenter has pointed out that Jesse was definitely pulling his weight there. But there are many reasons, such as:

    The 10's of thousands of voters (heavily black) who were purged by the Florida Secretary of State.

    The elite MSM, who in what should have been a repeat of 1988 (but with the sides switched) decided that perhaps putting in TANG boy was just what peace and prosperity needed.

  16. Moral responsibility, unlike probability, doesn't sum to 1. Of course the Naderites put Bush in the White House. So did Katherine Harris. So did Joe Lieberman's decision to give up on challenging invalid military ballots. So did Antonin Scalia and his lawless colleagues. So did Al Gore (for example, by going home to rest after voting instead of flying to the Florida Panhandle to get himself on the local evening news on last time on Election Day). So did Maureen Dowd and the rest of the media harpies, male and female, who decided to caricature Gore as un-masculine.

    None of that changes that fact that, at the moment when Gore had the limelight and got to define himself to the country, Jackson decided to make him look like a weakling by forcing him to crawl, while at the same time reminding borderline-racist white voters that a vote for the Democrats was a vote to increase the take of Jesse Jackson's personal extortion racket.

    And none of THAT changes the fact that, with respect to Joe Lieberman, Jackson was completely right, and I was wrong. I figured that someone who'd been a Freedom Rider must have retained some shred of decency. False!

  17. I really dunno. It's not clear Jackson drove away more white voters by criticizing Lieberman than he did by campaigning for the ticket. The problem was less w/ what he said about Lieberman than that he said anything at all. (He was a flawed vessel, of course, & not everyone who was put off by him was acting from bad motives.) To whatever extent he was responsible, it was mostly because almost everything he said, no matter how warranted or benign, reminded people of things he did or failed to do long before anybody got nominated.

    To whatever extent he was less helpful to the ticket than some people would’ve liked, it’s unclear it was because he knew something about Lieberman’s character that those people didn’t know, or could’ve predicted his subsequent sorry decline better than they could.

    To whatever extent he wasn’t responsible for Bush, I’d hope left-of-center people could at least agree that’s a good thing.

  18. Whatever else contributed to Gore's "defeat," he would have won without controversy if Nader voters in either Florida or New Hampshire had been able to perceive a difference between Gore and Bush.

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