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Did He Kiss Joe?


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William F. Buckley Jr.

I was thinking, gee whiz, maybe I am one of the reasons Senator Joe Lieberman is having such a tough time running for reelection in Connecticut. Here’s the story: 

 

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In October, we threw a great big party in Washington celebrating the 50th anniversary of National Review magazine, which I founded–well that’s easy: 50 years ago.

 

At celebratory events, one invites celebrities, not merely fellow cultists. So in the morning, the White House gave us a special seminar, and then lunch with the president for a few of us. That evening at the grand reception pre-dinner, Condi Rice was there, and assorted congressmen and journalists. When I reached the head table I found Senator Lieberman there, two or three seats away from Rush Limbaugh.

 

I don’t actually remember having a personal hand in deciding who sat at the head table, but I was not surprised to see Joe Lieberman. We have a few ties.

 

Ten years after I served as chairman of the Yale Daily News, he was elected to that position, and we found ourselves sharing an obligation to look after an old employee and his unruly son. This brought on several meetings, amiable, but without any dissimulations: He was a rising young Democratic star, I a risen conservative star. But we had a common role in effecting the fall of a Republican star, incumbent Senator Lowell Weicker.

 

Senator Weicker aroused such animus among alert conservative citizens of Connecticut that a few of us took solemn oaths to work against his reelection in 1988–when he was opposed by Joe Lieberman.

 

Members of my family were no doubt influenced by Senator Weicker’s reluctance to admit brother James Buckley, elected U.S. Senator from New York, to membership in the Republican caucus in the Senate. Weicker made the point that Senator Buckley had been elected not on the GOP ticket, but on the Conservative Party ticket. A committee was formed (BuckPac) arguing that a vote for Lieberman was a vote for ideological decontamination of the Republican Party, Lowell Weicker having, by 1988, emerged as the weepiest liberal willow in public life. Moreover, he had perfected a self-infatuated pomposity that made voting against him a carnal pleasure.

 

In any event, though Lieberman did not move one inch rightward, we of the Connecticut Right made common cause with him in the defeat of Weicker. And, two terms later, he was designated by candidate Al Gore as running mate in the race against George Bush, which happily Lieberman lost. However, his early backing of the Iraq war, along with such as John Kerry and Al Gore, was a hard commitment and now he suffers for it. The hard-leftist gang, dominated by George Soros and Barbra Streisand, came up with a peachy young man in Greenwich who is rich and handsome and seeks to replace Lieberman in the Senate. Guarding against the possibility that Ned Lamont would win the primary, Joe Lieberman decided over the weekend to begin amassing the support he would need to run as an independent (as Weicker had done when he ran for governor in 1990). It is, in Connecticut as elsewhere, the ideological minorities that are best represented in primary contests, and Lieberman is willing to give up his seat but only in a contest in which all Democrats figure. Lieberman will probably win the primary but if not, he will probably go on to win as an independent.

 

But the narrative returns to the 50th anniversary dinner, at which Lieberman and I were seated at the same table. In the days that followed, the Democratic blogosphere gave Lieberman hell for showing up at my party, reading into his presence there ideological courtship, never mind that Lieberman has been a stalwart Democratic 95 percent of his times at bat.

 

But in looking into Lieberman’s vulnerabilities I discovered in Wikipedia this item: “Following his 2005 State of the Union address, President Bush, after shaking lawmakers’ hands, abruptly grasped Lieberman’s head in both hands and kissed him on the cheek. At first, Lieberman’s staff humorously referred to the embrace as ‘some kind of Yale thing.’

 

“However, as political backlash against the peck arose, Lamont’s supporters have appropriated the incident into a campaign button: ‘The Kiss: Too Close for Comfort.’ Lieberman has since denied the kiss ever took place. ‘I don’t think he kissed me. He learned over and gave me a hug and said ‘thank you for being a patriotic American,’ Lieberman told Time magazine.”

 

So I said to myself, thinking back on our celebration in October, “Thank God I didn’t kiss Joe!” Down Joe, down!



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