By E.J. Kessler

Published April 01, 2005, issue of April 01, 2005.
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Schiavo Set-to: Some Connecticut liberals are seizing on Senator Joseph Lieberman’s stance approving of congressional intervention in the Terri Schiavo matter to press their case that Lieberman is out of touch with Nutmeg State voters.

Lieberman, one of only a few Jewish lawmakers to approve of Congress’s bid to override the Florida courts and restore the feeding tube of the severely brain-damaged woman, told NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday that he would have restored Schiavo’s tube. Lieberman also disagreed with the contention of Rep. Christopher Shays, a Connecticut Republican, who complained that “this Republican Party of Lincoln has become a party of theocracy.”

Lieberman, an observant Jew who frequently quotes scripture to make policy points, also marshaled arguments from the Hebrew and Christian Bibles and called America a “faith-based initiative” in Sunday’s discussion on faith in politics with “Meet the Press” host Tim Russert.

Only one other Jewish Democrat, Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, is on record as voting for the Schiavo law, while several, including Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts, Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon and Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, have been among the leading Democrats speaking out against the congressional intervention. All three Jewish Republicans in Congress — Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, Senator Norm Coleman of Minnesota and Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia — supported federal intervention.

The remarks provided an opening for the forces who are seeking to mount a Democratic primary challenge to Lieberman, who is running for re-election in 2006.

“Chris Shays says the Republican Party is becoming a theocracy. Joe Lieberman says he doesn’t agree with that. Who’s more of a Republican? It’s just nutty,” said Keith Crane, a Connecticut Democratic activist who is founder of the Web site The site seeks to build support for a left-leaning primary candidacy against Lieberman, arguing that his positions render him a “Democrat in name only” who has more support among Republicans than Democrats.

Referring to Lieberman’s remark that America is a “faith-based initiative,” Crane criticized Lieberman for using what Crane described as “evangelical talking points.”

“Joe’s using his Jewishness to make friends with evangelicals,” Crane said.

Fairfield University professor John Orman, who has announced his intention to explore a primary bid against Lieberman, said of Lieberman’s position on the Schiavo matter, “I would have wanted my Democratic senator to say this is a private matter,” citing “privacy” as the “family value” he saw as paramount in the case.

Former Lieberman aide Daniel Gerstein said of Crane’s remarks, “The religious bigotry of those statements is offensive on its face” and called them “indicative of a mindset that’s continuing to alienate people of faith from the Democratic Party. It’s no wonder that we lost more than 80% of the counties in this country.”

“It’s a measure of how wacky politics have become on both sides of the aisle when being broadly popular regardless of party affiliation is now seen as something negative,” Gerstein said. “Most politicians — Democrat, Republican, Green or Independent — would kill to have Joe Lieberman’s integrity and respect across the political system.”

* * *

Nazi Comparisons: A number of conservative interest groups and commentators have likened Michael Schiavo’s and Florida and federal courts’ treatment of Terri Schiavo to Nazi doctors’ experiments in eugenics. “The philosophy of the Nazi doctors lives on today in the minds of federal judges and pro-euthanasia organizations, as well as Michael Schiavo and his New Age lawyer, George Felos,” the Traditional Values Coalition says on its Web site. Conservative commentator Patrick Buchanan compared the removal of Schiavo’s feeding tube to “the method used at Auschwitz to murder Father Maximilian Kolbe,” while GOPUSA commentator Robert Yoho wrote, “When considering her husband, Michael Schiavo, I am reminded of the Nuremberg trials. The Nazis, who perpetrated these war crimes under the guise of ‘just following orders,’ were later hanged for their actions.” The comparisons irked the National Jewish Democratic Council, which urged supporters to write to Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman to “tell him to condemn these conservatives for their abuse of the memory of the Holocaust.”

* * *

The Whole Megillah: Bush administration staffers got a chance to hear the Book of Esther on Purim day, last Friday, when Rabbi Levi Shemtov, director of Washington’s American Friends of Lubavitch, recited the scroll for them at the Office of Management and Budget. On hand for the festive reading were Jewish community liaison Noam Neusner, domestic policy aides Tevi Troy and Jeremy Katz, and Small Business Administration counsel David Javdan, among others. Shemtov is well regarded for the monthly sessions on Judaism he holds on Capitol Hill for members and staffers of both parties. He held a Purim party last Thursday for about 200 people at his group’s Embassy Row digs.

* * *

Southern Swing: Senator Russell Feingold of Wisconsin, a maverick Jewish Democrat often mentioned as a potential 2008 presidential contender, traveled around Alabama this week doing a series of “listening sessions.” Feingold told reporters he was returning to Alabama at the invitation of local officials who questioned an opinion piece he did last year for, in which he wondered why poor Alabamians voted so heavily for President Bush. Others saw the trip as an attempt by Feingold to raise his profile. “He is trying to lay the groundwork for a claim that he’s not a way-left Democrat with a narrow constituency, because he’s serious about a presidential run,” Democratic strategist Steve Rabinowitz said.

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