The Scream and The Kiss and Decency

(Originally published in Greater Democracy)

A little over two years ago, as our country was marching towards war, my wife and I found ourselves getting involved in politics supporting a candidate that stood up for opinions contrary to the prevailing opinions of the time. He was a man who stood for decency and spoke his mind. Over the following year he went from being an asterisk to being the superstar front-runner.

It is an oversimplification to speak of Gov. Dean’s campaign as being an anti-war campaign and it is an oversimplification to speak of The Scream as the one media event that took him down. However, it is important to look closely at The Scream and think about what really happened there.

As I noted in my entry, Interactive Deliberation, Edward Wasserman, Knight professor of journalism ethics at Washington and Lee University wrote a wonderful op-ed piece about this.

He wrote, “In fact the Dean Scream was a fraud, probably the clearest instance of media assassination in recent U.S. political history... the Dean Scream incriminates the entire professional mission of television news, which is built around the primacy of the picture. TV producers don't profess to offer meaning and context; they get you the visuals, unless they're gory or obscene. The notion that great footage would be not shown just because it's profoundly misleading - that's a possibility few TV news executives would entertain.”

Today, my wife and I find ourselves pondering a different scene. In the current political climate it is very popular to trash Senator Lieberman. Many people cite ‘The Kiss’ as the perfect symbol or what is wrong with Joe Lieberman. He is too cozy with the right wing extremists that have taken over the Republican Party. Let me propose a radical idea. Perhaps, The Kiss is another fraud, another instance, not quite as clear of media assassination.

Like Howard, Joe is a person that speaks his mind and stands up for decency, including some pretty harsh words about the mainstream media. We may not always agree with what he says, or how he says it, but we have to respect him for it.

My wife and I are trying to arrange a meeting between Senator Lieberman and our progressive friends. Some have no interest in speaking to Senator Lieberman. Most are interested in the event only as a chance to berate him on recent votes and quotes. Unfortunately it is only a few that are interested in a constructive dialog about how he can help us take our country back.

Many of my friends resist the idea of dialog with the administration concerning Iraq. They want our troops home now. They want their elected officials to vote against any more supplementary spending bills. Senator Lieberman is not likely to vote with them on this and trying to convince him may be a lost cause. However, can we convince him to tie supplemental spending to other methods of bringing peace, such as debt relief and development aid?

If we can’t convince him of the wisdom of bringing the troops home now, can we work towards saner internationalization, such as building stronger ties to the United Nations and not supporting John Bolton as the next ambassador to the United Nations? Can we get him to provide hope to progressive Democrats instead of talking points for the Republican right wing extremists on national television?

For the past few years, I have been looking for a candidate that will stand up for decency. I supported Gov. Dean because of his plainspoken call for decency, and I have been looking for someone to deliver our generations equivalent Joseph Welch’s famous “Have you no sense of decency sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?” Could Joe Lieberman effectively deliver this rebuke to the Neo-Joe McCarthyites? It would be great if he would.

My wife and I met with Senator Lieberman last week as we worked on arranging a dialog between the Senator and our progressive friends. On Sunday, my wife was at a NARAL fundraiser where she spoke with Senator Lieberman. Her comment to him was something to the effect of, “We will work to elect the most progressive Senator from Connecticut possible. It would be great if you could be that Senator.” Senator Lieberman then kissed my wife on the cheek, similar to the now infamous kiss.

Many of my friends may not believe that Senator Lieberman can or should be the most progressive Senator from Connecticut. They will work in the primaries to find a more progressive candidate. I support their effort. As I wrote earlier, primaries are an important part of the political process and we must embrace them. At the same time, I will work to try and remind Senator Lieberman of his progressive roots and bring him back to being a leader fighting for progressive politics.

I hope that we can begin a dialog to talk about how we can get Senator Lieberman to fight for progressive causes. What should we say in this dialog?

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