WASHINGTON -- Facing a Democratic electorate in Connecticut hostile to his pro-war position on Iraq, Sen. Joseph Lieberman is stressing his efficiency in bringing home pork for his constituents the past 18 years. That resulted in an exchange with peace candidate Ned Lamont in their July 7 Democratic primary debate that revealed a lot about how politics and government work in Washington today.
Polls showed Lamont creeping up in the Aug. 8 primary when Lieberman and his fellow Connecticut Democrat, Sen. Christopher Dodd, issued a press release June 28 bragging about funding $2.5 billion in future transportation projects in the state. At the debate nine days later, Lamont raised the climate of corruption in Washington. "There are earmarks that are good," countered Lieberman, challenging Lamont whether he would oppose "good" Connecticut earmarks for intermodal transportation service and ferry service. Lamont replied: "I think we should outlaw these earmarks. I think they corrupt the political process."
As a shrewd and experienced candidate, Lieberman reflects many fellow professional politicians who realize that runaway earmarking in Congress has become public and unpopular. He now opposes the practice in general while still relying on the process to secure national taxpayer funding for government projects in his own state.
In the only debate with Lamont that Lieberman agreed to, the senator looked nearly as dismissive as Walter Mondale did when he debated Republican Norm Coleman in the 2002 Minnesota Senate race. Lieberman could not mask his contempt for this upstart, whose previous public service had been as a Greenwich selectman nearly two decades ago, calling him "Ned" while Lamont referred to "Sen. Lieberman."
Lieberman's exasperation peaked when Lamont called the 6,241 earmarks in last year's transportation program "wrong" and suggested the senator was "part of the problem." While praising "good" earmarks for Connecticut, Lieberman added: "Of course, we were all against the bridge to nowhere." In fact, Lieberman last Oct. 20 voted against Republican Sen. Tom Coburn's amendment to defund the infamous Alaska bridge.
On that same day, Lieberman also voted to oppose Coburn's proposals to defund a parking garage in Nebraska, a sculpture park in the state of Washington and an animal shelter in Rhode Island. Citizens Against Government Waste, which named Lieberman as "Porker of the Month" in August 2004, puts him in their "unfriendly" category with a 21 percent lifetime rating. The conservative Club for Growth's evaluation of 2005 votes rated him 3 percent. The American Conservative Union gave Lieberman a zero for 2004, raising him to 8 percent in 2005.