Sen. Lieberman's politics are fair game; his wife's activities are not

Baltimore Sun

To a self-described "old feminist" such as Hadassah Lieberman, the recent blog-inspired attack against her - all related to husband Joe Lieberman's obstruction of the Democrats' health care agenda - has been a surreal mix of "McCarthyism" and a "snowball fight on the playground."

Actually, ambush is a better word.

Blogger Jane Hamsher, a movie producer ("Natural Born Killers") and political activist, went after Mrs. Lieberman as Senator Lieberman was refusing to vote for a health care reform bill that included expanding Medicare to people as young as 55. Ms. Hamsher claimed that because Mrs. Lieberman was a lobbyist and had worked for the pharmaceutical industry, she should be fired from her position as global ambassador for the Susan G. Komen for the Cure breast cancer charity.

Ms. Hamsher says that when people run for the cure, or donate to Komen, they don't expect their money to go to someone who helps funnel funds to pharmaceutical companies that are also fighting health care reform.

If "Huh?" is trying to escape your lips, don't fight it. Meanwhile, let's pause for a few facts, easily accessible thanks to that techno-geezer, Alexander Graham Bell:

Hadassah Lieberman is not and has never been a lobbyist. She did work for some pharmaceutical companies - Hoffman-La Roche in New York in the 1970s before she married Mr. Lieberman, and Pfizer, also in New York, between 1982 and 1985. Later, from 1993 to 1997, she worked for Apco, a global public relations firm that represents corporations, including several drug companies.

More facts: Mrs. Lieberman is not paid in her role as global ambassador for Komen, though she does get a check for consulting work she performs under a separate agreement. According to Komen spokesperson Pamela Stevens, Komen has never funneled money to pharmaceutical companies. Susan G. Komen grants totaling $450 million have gone to research institutions in the U.S. and abroad. Another $900 million has gone to programs in communities worldwide for education, screening and treatment. Another $50 million will go to research in the coming year.

So, why again should Hadassah Lieberman be fired?

Because Jane Hamsher says so.

Ms. Hamsher, who is a cancer survivor, as are other family members, apparently has taken her personal suffering and made it personal with Hadassah Lieberman. On her blog, Firedoglake, she launched a campaign for readers to pressure the Komen organization to oust Mrs. Lieberman. She is also urging Komen-friendly celebrities such as Christie Brinkley and Ellen DeGeneres to do the same.

Whether one agrees with Senator Lieberman's opposition to certain elements of the Senate health care bill is a matter of legitimate debate. Democrats are understandably furious with the Senator Formerly Known As A Democrat, now an independent and sometimes a Republican sympathizer. Thanks largely to Mr. Lieberman, progressives have had to watch as their single-payer dream became a public option and, now, something closer to a nightmare.

But again, what has any of this to do with his wife's work for a nonprofit organization that has raised breast cancer awareness and saved countless lives around the world? There is no conflict of interest unless you think that a wife should stay home and be her husband's silent partner.

In that light, the attack on Hadassah Lieberman has been fantastically anti-feminist. In what American century is a wife's job in jeopardy because of her husband's politics?

"It's been surprising to me as an old feminist to watch this kind of cheap attack," Mrs. Lieberman told me. "The reality of many women is that many of us have careers and ideas and thoughts that preceded our marriages."

Ms. Hamsher's campaign thus far has had little effect except to cause alarm among those concerned with truth's slow pace in the race against falsehood. A few e-mails from blog readers have trickled in to the Komen organization, but there's been no word from celebrities, says Ms. Stevens.

Ultimately, this may prove much ado about nada. But there is a larger issue embedded herein concerning the damaging effects of viral warfare on individual reputations, not to mention democracy.

Hadassah Lieberman is but the most recent victim of new media that owe no allegiance to facts or to the goal of an informed citizenry. In such an environment, anyone's reputation is subject to the whim of any other person armed with an agenda and a random selection of disputable facts, and unencumbered by standards.

Or, as in this case, unconstrained by the modern notion that women are free to think and act independently of their husbands.

Kathleen Parker's column appears regularly in The Baltimore Sun. Her e-mail is

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