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The World This Week: A Tale of Two Senators

Where shall we look for the leadership that died with Kennedy? Not to Joe Lieberman.

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Thursday, September 03, 2009

Now that the "Lion of the Senate" has roared for the last time, the jungle of Congress will get back to business as usual: selling out the American people. The tributes to Ted Kennedy in the last week from across the political spectrum have been impressive and moving, but they've also had a desperate tinge to them. It's as if everybody knows—but no one will come out and say—that the gig is up, that the transformation of the federal government into a wing of the corporate state is now all but complete.

Though sniping anklebiters like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh got in their obligatory cheap shots at Ted, most of the outpouring was respectful. The eulogies, in the wake of his sister Eunice's recent death, embraced the entire Kennedy family, a reminder of the mythical power the clan still wields.

The Kennedy family, to which Ted and Eunice were the last powerful links, held America's hand for 50 years. They told America a nice bedtime story about Camelot, about how top dogs can fight for bottom dogs, about sacrifice, pain and tragedy, about human courage and frailty. It's really not hard to understand how, despite his personal failings, Ted Kennedy attained the undying respect of millions: he accomplished things that helped millions of Americans, and he did not sell out. Maybe he didn't have to sell out because of his wealth, name and safe Senate seat. No matter.

Is anyone else in Washington capable of constructing a compelling myth inside which the rest of America can live? The short answer is no. We seem to expect our elected leaders to sell us out and we hail those leaders who sell us out the least, including the current occupant of the White House, as heroes.

And yet, beside Ted Kennedy, nearly everyone else in D.C. looks inconsequential, like bullshit artists pretending to be leaders. Now the big cat's away and the little mice will play.

Among the smallest of the mice is Joe Lieberman, who had a banner week of a different kind. Just before Kennedy died, Lieberman was all over the media. In one wave of appearances, he expressed "strong disappointment in the U.S. Attorney General's decision to name a prosecutor to investigate CIA interrogations." We can't have accountability for torture according to Holy Joe, who once said of waterboarding, "It is not like putting burning coals on people's bodies. The person is in no real danger. The impact is psychological."

In a second wave of media appearances, Lieberman was telling us that we simply can't "afford" health care reform. "I'm afraid we've got to think about putting a lot of that off until the economy is out of recession," he told CNN. "It's not good for the system&it won't be good for the Obama presidency."

There you have it in a nutshell. It's not good for the "system" (meaning: the corporate state) and it's not good for the reelection chances of members of the D.C. Insider Club. And because our government is filled to the brim with Joe Liebermans rather than Ted Kennedys, we will not see any substantive change until... when?

Lieberman had one final burst of media tongue-lapping when the actor Alec Baldwin threatened to move to Connecticut to run against him in 2012. Though he later rescinded the threat, Baldwin allowed the chipmunk-cheeked Senator to smirk, "Make my day."

Sorry, Alec, but you don't get punk'd by Holy Joe and then get my vote. Indeed, the only way I would want you to run is if you do it in the character of Blake from the film version of David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross.

Who doesn't long for an approach like this: "We're adding a little something to this month's sales contest. As you all know, first prize is a Cadillac Eldorado. Anyone want to see second prize? Second prize is a set of steak knives. Third prize is you're fired. You get the picture?"

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