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Senator Joseph Lieberman on the Kennedy health crisis, and Obama foreign policy inexperience.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008
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HH: On a day full of sad news on Capitol Hill, Ted Kennedy’s got a brain tumor. To discuss that, but also to discuss the world at large, one of the Kennedy’s great friends and a great American, Joe Lieberman, Democrat of Connecticut. Senator, I think most conservatives of grace and style would recognize Teddy Kennedy as a worthy adversary, and as a giant in the American Senate, and wish him well. What have you heard about this today?

JL: Probably…thanks for saying that, probably not much more than you have. And you know, he is a giant in the Senate. And first, I will tell you that getting to know him has been one of the great bonuses of being a Senator, whether you agree with him or disagree with him. He’s a wonderful guy. He loves to laugh. And he has been a great legislator. And not withstanding the fact that he is quite a devoted liberal Democrat, he has always understood that to get anything done around here, he had to have some Republicans with him. And he’s known how to compromise. And I would say one of the more significant domestic policy achievements of the last eight years of the Bush administration was the No Child Left Behind, and it was, a lot of people were in it, but it was essentially an agreement between President Bush and Teddy Kennedy. So he’s one of the greats. Listen, from all I know from doctor friends I’ve talked to, that the seriousness of this depends on where this tumor is, and obviously how, whether the malignancy has spread. But he’s in for a tough time, but the guy’s a fighter. And we all hope and pray that he could beat this, and come back and be part of the Senate. I will tell you that on the floor of the Senate today, when we were all there in a vote, just reflecting, Hugh, what you were gracious enough to just say, that the sadness and the upset was as strongly felt among the Republicans as among the Democrats. This is like somebody in the family who you found out has got a serious health problem, and we all pray that God will be with him, and he’ll get better and come back.

HH: As I say, conservatives, liberals, Americans, do not wish this on anyone, no matter how deep the disagreements, and they pray for the family and his recovery, and then his defeat, of course, at the election.

JL: (laughing)

HH: But nevertheless, his recovery.

JL: You know, if anybody would really appreciate that particular prayer, it would be Kennedy.

HH: Yeah, that’s what I mean.

JL: That’s the prayer he would say for some of his opponents here.

HH: Let’s turn to bipartisanship when it comes to foreign policy.

JL: Yeah.

HH: You’ve given a speech at Commentary Magazine’s dinner…

JL: Yeah.

HH: …which has rocked the world of realists about the war that we’re in, and gotten quite a lot of attention, because you talked bluntly about this war. Can you give us the short version, Senator Lieberman?

JL: Well, it was a long speech. They actually called it a lecture. But I talked historically about the roots of the Democratic Party’s foreign policy, national security, Roosevelt, Truman, JFK. And that was the party I grew up in proudly and unabashedly pro-American, knew the difference between right and wrong in the world, knew that freedom in the world was interrelated with freedom here at home. And somehow, or after Vietnam, we lost that. And the party was wrong, and I think unsuccessful for a lot of the 70s and 80s. And then at least on foreign policy, the party began to move back in the 90s with Clinton and Gore, and interestingly, in the 2000 election, Gore actually was somewhat more hawkish and proactive in terms of foreign policy than then-Governor Bush was. But then it all changed on 9/11. And the President changed his position, and recognized the threat from the Islamist terrorists as what it was, and decided on a course of counteracting it with direct military action, and aggressive diplomatic outreach. And unfortunately, the Democrats flipped and took exactly the other position. As I say in there, one of the lines was something like centrism began to be identified by too many Democrats as collaboration with the enemy. And the enemy was not bin Laden, but Bush.

HH: Is that lecture going to be published in Commentary, Senator Lieberman?

JL: I hope it will, and there’s sort of a short version of it coming into the Wall Street Journal editorial page as kind of an op-ed tomorrow. And I go to this year’s election, and I say unfortunately, it’s continued. And you know, Senator Obama’s taken positions that have not been at all at odds with the left wing of the Democratic Party on foreign policy and national security, international economics, and I think that’s part of why it is for me such a clear choice between Senator McCain and Senator Obama, and why, of course, I crossed party lines to support John McCain.

HH: Do you expect to address the Republican convention, Senator?

JL: You know, I don’t know. I’ve said that if John McCain asked me to do it, I would do it, because I support his candidacy that strongly, and I think this election year, this presidential election is that important to our future security, obviously to the way our government will run, and the way our economy will be for the next period of our history.

HH: Now Senator, I know you’re very respectful of your friends in the Senate, including Senator Obama.

JL: Yes.

HH: But I want to bear in a little bit on some things that he said.

JL: Yeah.

HH: Number one, when he talked about Kennedy and Kruschev meeting in Vienna at a time the world was on the brink of nuclear exchange, world on the brink, that’s just not right, and it tells me that he may not have studied as deeply in foreign affairs as we would want a potential president to have studied. Your reaction to that?

JL: No, I agree. I mean, he said that Kennedy and Reagan met with enemies at different times. But Kennedy, President Kennedy and President Reagan…well, President Kennedy never met with Castro, and President Reagan never met with Ayatollah Khomeini, because these people were over the edge, and were just implacably anti-American, and there was nothing to be gained from meeting with them. I think that President Kennedy met with Kruschev, or was it…

HH: It was Kruschev…

JL: Kruschev, and then President Reagan met with Gorbachev, because by that time we had had a basic agreement with the Soviet Union that we were not going to blow each other off the face of the Earth, and though they were a direct ideological and global enemy, there were ways that talks could be productive. But to say, and of course, they’re a great nation. To say a great world power, to say that you sit down unconditionally with Ahmadinejad and Chavez and Castro and Kim Jung Il, will do nothing but raise the power and prestige and credibility of these people. And incidentally, in doing so, if you sit with your enemies without conditions, you’re going to undermine your allies, in Asia, in the Middle East, and Latin America. And unfortunately, Senator Obama’s already done some of that. You know, he said he would meet with Kim Jung Il in North Korea, but he is unwilling to support the free trade agreement with South Korea. And he’s done the same in Latin America. He said he’d sit with Chavez or Castro, but that he turns his back both economically and diplomatically on the Uribe government, democratically elected, in Colombia. So this is why I feel strongly about the choice people have this year in November.

HH: He’s also talked about Ahmadinejad and going to meet with him, but at the same time, trying to condemn Hezbollah. To me, you can’t do that. You can’t separate Hezbollah from Ahmadinejad, because the latter funds the former.

JL: I totally agree. I mean, look, as John McCain says, Ahmadinejad is the paymaster for Hezbollah, Hamas, and now the Taliban, and of course, the Shia special group extremists in Iraq, who are killing Americans, have killed hundreds of Americans, as a matter of fact. In other words, I think you’ve got to step back and look at the Middle East, and see Iran not just as a fanatical power, but as a power that really wants to dominate the region. And it’s beginning to do so through proxies like Hezbollah. And incidentally, at least in the latest round, Hezbollah seems now to be the more dominant force in Lebanon. And that means Iran is the more dominant force in Lebanon, and that’s not good for us or the cause of freedom.

HH: Was it right for President Bush to condemn appeasement in the Knesset?

JL: Yeah, I personally thought that that was a stirring speech, and you know, maybe I’m naïve. I don’t know whether he intended it to be a message to Senator Obama. I thought frankly that he was really describing…three things, maybe. One, describing why he, President Bush, has done the things he’s done in foreign policy, because he’s learned the lessons of history, including the seduction of appeasement, which produces nothing but more danger. But secondly, on the 60th anniversary of Israel, he was just plain reassuring the Israelis. I think the third thing, and of course, they didn’t take it as a swipe at anybody back here. They basically stood up and cheered, because they appreciated it. And I think third, maybe President Bush was using that platform to send a message to Iran as part of a general ratcheting-up of what the administration has been saying about Iran for the last couple of months.

HH: Senator Joseph Lieberman, thank you, and when you see your friend, Senator Kennedy, you can tell him, whether he believes it or not, a lot of people in the right wing world of radio are praying for his quick recovery…and then his retirement.

JL: (laughing) I’ll tell him that. You’re a good man, Hugh. Thanks a lot.

HH: Thank you, Senator Lieberman.

End of interview.

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