When I went to Sweet Rexie’s, a woman-owned small business in Norwalk, to see Barbara Boxer and Joe Lieberman yesterday, I expected her to endorse him. I didn’t expect her to call him "Sir Galahad."
At the candy store, a small group of Lieberman supporters was outnumbered by a throng of press with notebooks and cameras. One very sweet protester with a home-made sign stood outside decrying not just the war but the "cronyism" that brought Senator Boxer here to stump for Joe. She, like I, was stunned that Boxer, whose courageous efforts to stand up to the reckless Bush administration have time and again been stymied and undermined by Joe Lieberman, would choose to come here to prop up his candidacy.
Lieberman and Boxer arrived to anemic applause and a crush of cameras. The Sweet Rexie’s hosts were great, and the owner of the business was one of the first speakers, talking about the importance of supporting women small business owners.
CTBob took full video of the speeches, so I’m not presenting a full transcript here, just my impressions of what was said. Joe Lieberman then spoke, reflecting on how far women have come in the world and how great it is that women have taken their rightful place in society. He mused that if his mother Marcia (who died last year) had been part of a later generation, she would have been President. He stressed his strong friendship with Boxer and the mutual friendship of their spouses.
When Senator Boxer spoke, she talked about how she was elected during the "Year of the Woman", the same year Bill Clinton was elected. She said that the Democratic women Senators classify their male Democratic colleagues into three categories: Friends, Supporters, and Sir Galahads. Boxer called Joe Lieberman a "Sir Galahad" and complimented him for his support for environmental protection and choice and other issues important to women.
It really stunned me that Boxer would call Lieberman a "Sir Galahad". After all, he had not only let her down but actively worked against her most vociferous and passionate efforts related to election protection, opposition to Condoleezza Rice and other Bush appointees, and just about everything related to this horrible war in Iraq.
When Boxer and Lieberman then invited questions from the crowd, the first one came from a reporter who asked about Boxer’s opposition to the war. Her answer to this question shone a new light on the "Sir Galahad" comment. She reflected that while she and Lieberman disagree on the war in Iraq, they can come together and agree on other issues. For example, she said, Lieberman helped to pass her bill related to mental health care for active servicemembers and those returning from Iraq who need mental health care. The bill, she said, would prevent someone with PTSD from being returned to the battlefield. Boxer said that Lieberman helped to corral his pro-war colleagues while she gathered support from her anti-war allies.
As she was speaking, I had to wonder whether Boxer was oblivious to the irony here — she was praising Lieberman for standing up to help our troops who have suffered mental illness as a result of the war in Iraq, a war that he relentlessly cheerleads for and supports wholeheartedly to this day, despite the lack of substantive progress and the toll in tens of thousands of deaths and injuries, both physical and mental.
The idea that a woman Senator, who I had previously considered so strong and courageous, would consider Lieberman her "knight in shining armor" for such a comparatively paltry deed was stunning to me. Supporting mental health care for our soldiers is the least a cheerleader of the war in Iraq can do. At best, it puts Lieberman in the "not a monster" category, not the "knight in shining armor" category.
At that moment, it seemed to me to illustrate how little progress women have made in the Senate. Lieberman has suggested repeatedly that Democrats who oppose the war are undermining our national security and undermining the future of the party. However chummy they and their spouses may be in private, in public Lieberman has essentially undercut Boxer’s authority and questioned her patriotism for criticizing Bush. Yet here she was praising him effusively, calling him "Sir Galahad". I couldn’t help but think it analagous to a woman whose spouse badmouths her, undermines her in public, cheats on her, but buys her flowers every once in a while, so she tells her friends he is romantic.
The second question from the assembled group came from CTBob, who asked Boxer about whether she still supports censuring Bush. At this point, Lieberman’s handlers must have realized they weren’t going to be getting softballs from the throng with cameras, so they abruptly cut off the questions and began to hustle the two Senators out the door.
CTBob got out to the sidewalk before them, so he was able to continue filming. I walked alongside Boxer and Jennifer Medina, a New York Times reporter who was asking Boxer about her opposition to the Senate bill that would criminalize family members and other caring adults who might help minors cross state lines to terminate their pregancies. Since so many women have been dismayed by Boxer’s support for Lieberman given his unconscionable comments about EC for rape victims, I asked her what she thought of his position.
I was very surprised when she snapped at me while I was asking the question, not letting me finish. I assumed she knew about the issue and was stunned when she said that Joe Lieberman never said that. When I tried to say that Lieberman was very clear in his opposition to requiring all emergency rooms to offer EC, she chided me for interrupting her (although she set the tone by interrupting me) and then went on to mangle Lieberman’s position, saying something like he just wanted hospitals to walk rape victims next door to another hospital, a really bizarre answer. I tried to tell her that Catholic and non-Catholic hospitals in CT are not "next door" to each other (as CTBob’s helpful maps show) but she again snapped at me for interrupting her (which I did because what she was saying was utter bullshit – he meant hospitals should walk rape victims next door? Huh?)
I’m not sure I’d characterize my exchange with Boxer as a meltdown on her part. I do think, though, that she’s taken on Joe Lieberman’s imperious tone and approach to this primary. Joe Lieberman’s entire campaign has been characterized by his palpable anger that any Democrats would dare to question him and force him to earn his nomination. He ran commercials saying he wanted to listen to Connecticut voters, but then he never held any public events or open forums at all. When I tried to talk to him at a bar about my dismay that he will run as an independent if he loses, he called it a "set-up" and he called me a "plant". So much for listening.
Boxer, too, could have taken my question as an opportunity to say that she understands the concerns that women have had with Lieberman’s position on "principled" reasons to deny EC to rape victims. She could have said that she had heard from many women who were upset about it and she understands why they’d be concerned, but that she had talked to Joe and found out that his position was more complicated than how he had been quoted (or something). Instead, seemed peeved that I’d even dare to bring it up at all. She later snapped at CTBob when he tried to ask a follow-up, saying Bob had "misread" Joe’s position. So let’s recap, from the New Haven Register:
Lieberman said he believes hospitals that refuse to give contraceptives to rape victims for "principled reasons" shouldn’t be forced to do so. "In Connecticut, it shouldn’t take more than a short ride to get to another hospital," he said.
How is that open for interpretation? What are the "principled" reasons to deny care to a rape victim? Does Barbara Boxer really think that Joe Lieberman’s position here is that Catholic Hospitals are going to start a "Sinner Shuttle" to take rape victims around town to find contraception that they are too "principled" to dispense themselves?
Call me crazy, but with all the criticism Boxer has gotten on FDL and DailyKos about Lieberman and the "short ride" comment, I thought she’d actually want to take the question. If she took the time to listen to our concerns and then had a real exchange about it (rather than shutting us down and rushing away) she might have earned a lot of respect from people who are wondering why she is doing what she is doing. Instead she was peeved and dismissive and essentially told us to shut our traps and do what NARAL and Planned Parenthood tell us to do.
Senator Boxer is one of the best Democrats in the Senate and one of our strongest women voices in Congress. She’s so much more progressive than just about everyone else in the Senate, and her support for Lieberman does not erase all the good that she has done or nullify her status as a great leader.
Yet I left my encounter with her yesterday feeling sad, sad that women have apparently made so little progress in politics that we apparently need not only to thank Lieberman for the scraps he throws us, but to call him a knight as well.