Commentary Magazine


Topic: Scoop Jackson

Joe Lieberman’s Farewell Speech

Senator Joe Lieberman, the last of the Scoop Jackson Democrats, delivered his farewell address on the Senate floor yesterday. The whole speech is worth watching, but the last three minutes, in which Lieberman talks about how he was inspired into public service by President Kennedy, are particularly moving:

Lieberman also appealed to a younger generation of political leaders, urging them to get involved in foreign affairs and national security issues:

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Senator Joe Lieberman, the last of the Scoop Jackson Democrats, delivered his farewell address on the Senate floor yesterday. The whole speech is worth watching, but the last three minutes, in which Lieberman talks about how he was inspired into public service by President Kennedy, are particularly moving:

Lieberman also appealed to a younger generation of political leaders, urging them to get involved in foreign affairs and national security issues:

Here, too, I appeal to my Senate colleagues, and again, especially those who will take the oath of office for the first time early in January: Do not listen to the political consultants or others who tell you that you shouldn’t spend time on foreign affairs or national security. They’re wrong. The American people need us, the Senate, to stay engaged economically, diplomatically, and militarily in an ever smaller world.

Do not underestimate the impact you could have by getting involved in matters of foreign policy and national security—whether by using your voice to stand in solidarity with those who are struggling for the American ideal of freedom in their own countries across the globe, or working to strengthen the foreign policy and national security institutions of our own country, or by rallying our citizens to embrace the role that we as a country must play on the world stage, as both our interests and our values demand.

None of the challenges we face today, in a still dangerous world, is beyond our ability to meet. Just as we ended the ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, we can stop the slaughter in Syria. Just as we nurtured the Democratic transition after communism fell in Central and Eastern Europe, we can support the forces of freedom in the Middle East today. And just as we were able to prevail in the long struggle against the Soviet Union during the Cold War, we can prevail in the global conflict with Islamist extremism and terrorism that we were forced into by the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. But all that too will require leadership in the United State Senate—It will require leaders who will stand against the siren song of isolationism, who will defend our defense and foreign assistance budgets, who will support – when necessary—the use of America’s military power against our enemies in the world and who will have the patience and determination when the public grows weary to see our battles through until they are won.

Unfortunately, Lieberman has no real heir among Senate Democrats, though he has been a mentor to freshman Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte.

At the Washington Post, Dana Milbank offers a pensive take on Lieberman’s speech, noting that the same temperament that made him a great political leader–his willingness to break with his party on issues of principle–also prematurely ended his career: 

Mostly, [Lieberman] offered fond reminiscences of a quarter-century. “When I started here in the Senate, a blackberry was a fruit and tweeting was something only birds did,” he said, then recalled some of the legislation he brokered: the 9/11 Commission, the Department of Homeland Security and repealing the ban on gays serving openly in the military.

“There is no magic or mystery” to how such things were done, he said. “It means ultimately putting the interests of country and constituents ahead of the dictates of party.”

Lieberman did that, and it ultimately ended his career.

He finished his speech and accepted hugs and handshakes from staff members and the few senators on the floor. Then he slipped out one of the chamber’s south doors and into the Democratic cloakroom — a place that had never really been his home.

Lieberman will be missed as a senator, but let’s hope this won’t be the last we hear from him on the national stage.

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Jackson-Vanik Ends, but Legacy Continues

On Election Day last week, Connecticut elected a replacement senator for the retiring Joe Lieberman, the very last Scoop Jackson Democrat. In terms of Jackson’s legacy, it was one half of the end an era; the other half begins today, as the U.S. House votes to graduate Russia from what’s known as the Jackson-Vanik Amendment, a piece of Cold War-era legislation sanctioning the Soviet Union for its refusal to allow Jews to emigrate. The amendment is still on the books, but mostly as a symbolic measure. Now that Russia is joining the World Trade Organization, the Jackson-Vanik Amendment would actually harm American companies looking to benefit from the normalization of trade relations with Russia.

But the legacy of Henry “Scoop” Jackson’s fight for human rights in Russia will go on. The bill is set to be replaced with a bill targeting the Russian government’s recognizable human rights violators. Referred to as the Magnitsky bill, it is named for a Russian whistle blower arrested and abused by Russian authorities for uncovering corruption. Magnitsky died in custody. As with the sanctions on Iran, the Obama administration had personally opposed the Magnitsky human rights bill, and dispatched John Kerry to try and kill or water down the bill. When the Senate comes back from its Thanksgiving recess to take up its own version of the bill, we’ll find out just how much contempt Kerry has for the advocacy of human rights. Vladimir Putin’s government, unsurprisingly, isn’t thrilled with being held to account:

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On Election Day last week, Connecticut elected a replacement senator for the retiring Joe Lieberman, the very last Scoop Jackson Democrat. In terms of Jackson’s legacy, it was one half of the end an era; the other half begins today, as the U.S. House votes to graduate Russia from what’s known as the Jackson-Vanik Amendment, a piece of Cold War-era legislation sanctioning the Soviet Union for its refusal to allow Jews to emigrate. The amendment is still on the books, but mostly as a symbolic measure. Now that Russia is joining the World Trade Organization, the Jackson-Vanik Amendment would actually harm American companies looking to benefit from the normalization of trade relations with Russia.

But the legacy of Henry “Scoop” Jackson’s fight for human rights in Russia will go on. The bill is set to be replaced with a bill targeting the Russian government’s recognizable human rights violators. Referred to as the Magnitsky bill, it is named for a Russian whistle blower arrested and abused by Russian authorities for uncovering corruption. Magnitsky died in custody. As with the sanctions on Iran, the Obama administration had personally opposed the Magnitsky human rights bill, and dispatched John Kerry to try and kill or water down the bill. When the Senate comes back from its Thanksgiving recess to take up its own version of the bill, we’ll find out just how much contempt Kerry has for the advocacy of human rights. Vladimir Putin’s government, unsurprisingly, isn’t thrilled with being held to account:

Congress will vote on a bill named after Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky on Friday – the third anniversary of his death in detention – which is designed to deny visas for Russian officials involved in his imprisonment, abuse or death.

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Russia had already prepared its response but gave no more details than a Foreign Ministry statement on Thursday that warned of tough retaliation.

Many on the left opposed the Magnitsky bill as well, and many others opposed pairing human rights legislation with Russia’s graduation from Jackson-Vanik restrictions. This group includes Michael McFaul, once a prominent advocate for post-Soviet democratization but currently U.S. ambassador to Moscow and tasked with representing the Obama administration’s line.

This group was right to note that Jackson-Vanik no longer applies, but they are wrong to dismiss the Magnitsky bill as irrelevant to Jackson’s legacy. As Joshua Muravchik wrote recently in COMMENTARY, commemorating Jackson’s 100th birthday, questioning the behavior of autocratic regimes and their treatment of their own citizens was at the heart of Jackson’s work, and certainly the amendment itself:

Apart from the individuals who benefited, this amendment, like Jackson’s SALT amendment, raised some freighted questions. What kind of country treated its citizens as captives? How would such a country treat us? And why, if the Soviet regime was prepared to lay to rest its conflict with us, would it continue to give so little quarter to its own people?

Muravchik also quotes Natan Sharansky’s effusive praise for Jackson’s work, which centered on Jackson-Vanik: “For many Jews in the Soviet Union Jackson became the savior of their lives,” Sharansky said.

The Magnitsky bill is bipartisan, and reflects similar legislation taken up in Europe. Obama has apparently dropped his total opposition to the bill, perhaps in recognition that the ill-fated Russian “reset” is unsalvageable, or perhaps out of a genuine change of heart toward the importance of human rights and American global leadership. Either way, it now seems Jackson’s exemplary legacy will live on.

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