The Bear Is Back

by Paul Bass | June 16, 2006 9:39 AM | | Comments (31)

For his latest Karl Rove-ian personal attack ad, Joe Lieberman has retrieved an 18 year-old cartoon bear. This bear is no Yogi.

Lieberman’s new ad attacking his challenger in an Aug. 8 Democratic primary for his U.S. Senate seat, Ned Lamont, has shown up on his campaign web site. Click here to view the commercial (as long as it remains there; the last personal attack ad never made it onto the site).

The commercial evokes one that helped Lieberman first win his seat in 1988. That 1988 ad depicted the then-incumbent, Lowell Weicker, as a fat lazy bear who never showed up for votes in his third term in office. The ad was significant for two reasons: It inaugurated a new era in Connecticut of low-grade personal TV attack ads that belittle opponents, make fun of their appearance or magnify minor or out-of-context portions of their record. And, once he too was firmly ensconced in his third term in the Senate, Lieberman himself repeated Weicker’s absentee record. Lieberman spent much of 2003 running for president—and away from his job as senator. He skipped 54 percent of all Senate votes that year. He was absent for every vote on 63 of the 115 days in which the Senate cast votes. According to one estimate, that meant the taxpayers overpaid Lieberman $38,828.79 in salary that year.

The new cartoon ad reprises the figure of the Weicker cartoon bear. And it adds a new one: a little “bear cub,” aka Ned Lamont.

The same DC consultant hit man, Carter Askew, designed both ads. The new one shows Weicker coming out of his cave, still angry 18 years later that Joe Lieberman beat him. But he’s too lazy to run again. “Instead of coming out of hibernation,” the narrator informs us, “he sent his bear cub instead.” (In fact, Weicker had nothing to do with Lamont choosing to run for Senate.) It portrays Lamont as a whining, hop-about baby who doesn’t want to run against Lieberman because he previously gave Lieberman a campaign contribution. “But I agree with the Republicans 80 percent of the time!” cartoon Lamont protests in a shrill toddler’s voice. But as a “cub” he has to listen to the big bear.

The new ad brings another modern Beltway campaign attack mode to Connecticut: Bush adviser Karl Rove’s strategy of taking your own weakness and turning it into your opponent’s weakness instead, through relentless misrepresentation of facts.

Rove’s strategy first appeared in the 2004 presidential election. Democrat John Kerry was a war hero. George Bush was a National Guard dodger. Through a front group, the Bush team, fueled by corporate campaign contributions, unleased a torrent of commercials and other attacks portraying Kerry as the war shirker, through a disinformation campaign about the “Swift Boat” episode.

In this case, Lieberman, who has raised more than twice Lamont’s money because of his ties to corporate special interests, has used a similar strategy in addressing his chief weakness in a Democratic primary: that he sides with right-wing Republicans on the issues most important to Connecticut Democrats these days, such as the Iraq war, civil liberties, the right to dissent, appointees like Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez and Supreme Court Justice John Roberts, gay marriage, and the Bush-Cheney energy bill. On all those issues, as well as universal health care and tax policy toward the wealthy, Lamont is squarely in the camp of the Democratic opposition.

So the Lieberman team has pursued a strategy of relentlessly labeling Lamont the Republican. Why? Because 12 years ago, as a Greenwich selectman, he and other Democrats voted alongside Republicans on some non-ideological town issues. The Lieberman has further portrayed Lamont as anti-schoolchildren and anti-health care. The basis for that: He voted for a final budget that cut a requested health department budget increase from 12 to 6 percent. He voted against a $35 million school renovation project that included an asbestos clean-up because he wanted an independent audit. And he joined a unanimous vote to require top-level school administrators to pay the same increase in health care expenses as unionized town employees.

Lieberman himself called for an end to such old-record-twisting character-assassination ads in his book In Praise of Public Life. He wrote that in 2000, when he didn’t have a serious challenger to his Senate seat.

For the back-and-forth between the Lamont and Lieberman campaign team on the ethics and accuracy of the new ad, click here to read Mark Pazniokis’s account in the Courant.

Whether Lieberman’s ads succeed will signal how much politics is changing — whether corporate-financed, Beltway-style puerile attack ads, the kind Lieberman himself criticized in a 2000 book, can still silence debate and pound out of contention challengers to incumbents.

About Lieberman’s ads, the Manchester Journal-Inquirer (a conservative newspaper more aligned with Lieberman’s than Lamont’s views) recently editorialized: “The whole point of being Joe Lieberman used to be decency, dignity, and thoughtfulness. Lieberman’s attack ads look like the appeals of just another sleazy, desperate pol, grasping madly to hold on to office.”

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Posted by: Donna | June 16, 2006 12:27 PM

I hope Joe runs that ad. It's so shameless and ridiculous it's funny.

It also displays a total lack of respect for the voters of Connecticut. But of course, he's shown nothing but disdain for the voters of Connecticut for going on 18 years now.

Posted by: Charles Gaba | June 16, 2006 1:03 PM

I live here in Michigan, so forgive me for my ignorance, but I have a few questions for Connecticut voters regarding this ad:

1. Is it a wise idea to point out Weicker's support of Lamont? That is, is Weicker really that hated by the people of Connecticut these days? He was voted in as Governor just a few years after losing his Senate seat to Lieberman, so it doesn't sound like the voters hated his guts or anything.

In addition, it's my understanding that the main reason Weicker lost re-election as Governor was primarily because (like Bush's father, ironically) he enacted a tax which he previously stated that he wouldn't do. While this may have upset the voters at the time, it's not the sort of thing which makes anyone dispise someone a dozen years later.

2. Is it a wise idea to have a voiceover actor using an infantile "baby boy" voice to mock a U.S. Senatorial candidate in a race being taken so seriously by the electorate?

3. Is it a wise idea for Lieberman to attempt to paint Lamont as being a DINO (Dem in Name Only) when one of the major reasons Democrats are so angry with you is because of your own blatant sucking up to Bush, the GOP and Fox News?

4. Is it a wise idea to run such a seemingly amateurish TV commercial (the animation is shockingly poor--a high school kid with Flash skills could've done a better job) when you're trying to present yourself as a seasoned professional with gravitas?

5. Is it a wise idea to remind the voters exactly how Lieberman made it into office in the first place? Didn't he run to the right of Weicker way back when?

6. Is it a wise idea to bring up the fact that a Democrat who supported Lieberman in the past (including donating to his campaign) now feels betrayed enough to run against him?

Just wondering.

Posted by: unpoetaloco | June 16, 2006 2:28 PM

Wow! Is that the best Lieberman can do? That had to be the most infantile ad I have ever seen. Who would even pay attention to it?

Posted by: Solitaire | June 16, 2006 3:10 PM

Liebermans a Dem? Could have fooled me.

Posted by: DeppFan | June 16, 2006 3:15 PM

Weickert is spelled with a "T" on the end!

Posted by: BC | June 16, 2006 3:18 PM

Not to mention it is the most pitiful animation and voicing I've ever seen/heard.

"Bears are souless killing machines!" - Colbert

Posted by: jkb | June 16, 2006 4:15 PM

that is the STUPIDEST commercial I have seen in quite some time. I was going to email Leiberman to tell him so, but I want him to lose so I will keep my trap shut.

Posted by: oldgringo | June 16, 2006 5:56 PM

Good bye, Zell Lieberbush, "It is time for you to GO home to Crawwford, Texas with your "Kissing Buddy", the "Missing Idiot" therefrom named George W. Bush!

Posted by: Ben Wojdyla | June 16, 2006 8:16 PM

Mr. Bass,

Please cite evidence that the swift boat veterans for trth was funded by and organized by the bush campaign.

Please note that I am by no means s Bush supporter, the man is a joke. However, baseless attacks like that are what the Republicans do. Go take a gander at a rightist website and count how many time clinton is referred to as a rapist and receptor of bribes.

I am simply asking that the journalistic ethic be upheld, lest your commentary become marginalized by its lack of factual evidence.

Please post your evidence here, or email me directly at

I am sure the the major news outlets would also like the proof that you would offer.

Posted by: Dan Krisher | June 16, 2006 10:13 PM

I'm watching the CT race in California and I'm appalled at Leiberman's complete inability to be a gentleman in this race. From here is LA, Lamont seems to be very considerate of Leiberman. His gesture to support Leiberman should he win the primary is good sportsmanship. However, Leiberman has not shown the same kind of integrity. I think that says it all about Leiberman. I can't believe that he is actually such a sore loser as to consider a run as an independent.

That will make him essentially a spoiler like Ralph Nadar.

Leiberman's actions, not Lamont's, could lose the Senate seat to the Republicans. That indicates to me that Leiberman does not care about his own party and only his own political "career". Also, the Lamont bashing ads seem to be bordering on the obsessive. Almost neurotic. Another worrisome character trait. Finally, if CT does lose the seat, because of Leiberman's inability to act like a gentleman and support Lamont if he fairly wins the primary, the change won't be that dramatic. Leiberman has crossed the aisle so many times, and the fact that he got Bill O'Reilly to endorse him, says that he is a neo-conservative and not a centrists democrat at all.

Posted by: Jerry T. | June 16, 2006 11:29 PM

Info on the Swiftboat Liars

Republican-funded Group Attacks Kerry's War Record

Bob Perry - The Man Behind Swift Boat Veterans for Truth

Texas donor supported swift boat ads
Two Bush campaign associates have resigned over the swift boat ads: Campaign lawyer Benjamin Ginsberg quit the campaign after disclosing he also advised members of the swift boat ad campaign, and volunteer adviser Ken Cordier, a retired Air Force colonel, resigned his advisory role after appearing in one of the ads.

Want more?

Posted by: Jim | June 17, 2006 12:49 AM

I can not wait for the primary. I will vote for Ned Lamont. Why? Because Joe Leiberman has been out of touch with us. The images of Leiberman standing there in front of the press, whinning about price fixing by oil companies and promising investigations are seared into my memory as yet another ineffective politican. Simply, he has been in DC too long and it is time to go. So long Joe, nice knowing you!

Posted by: Josh | June 17, 2006 6:00 AM

I'm starting to feel bad for old Joe Mentum, when exactly did the dementia set in?

Posted by: Phil Martin | June 17, 2006 7:18 AM

While this looks amateurish, it does bring to mind one question - why didn't Lieberman seem as willing to fight in 2000 against Bush/Cheney as he is in 2006 against Lamont?

Posted by: Davey | June 17, 2006 9:52 AM

I like cartoons.

Posted by: guruoo | June 17, 2006 11:55 AM

Just in case they decide to scrub it, here's a direct link for downloading the ad:

Posted by: Ken Danieli | June 17, 2006 1:28 PM

It's simply too confusing to work on TV. The cub says "but I'm supporting Joe Lieberman..." in the middle of way too much dialog. The average viewer is never going to digest that the bear and cub are disagreeing, but then the cub does what the bear wants.

There's just way too much crammed in, going in different directions.

It's a loser. Like Joe.

Posted by: me | June 17, 2006 3:01 PM

That ad accomplished the impossible. After seeing it, my opinion of Lieberman dropped even lower.

Posted by: Fletcher | June 17, 2006 3:22 PM

Jerry T.'s "proof" is as amorphous as that embarrassing "connections" graphic posted in the New York Times.

There is no legitimate argument that the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth were funded by or in had any operational ties to the Bush campaign. They were a true independent expenditure by individuals highly motivated to defeat John Kerry. Their arguments stand on their own as counterpoints to Senator Kerry's claims about his service in Vietnam, and should be assessed alongside the physical and paper records of the period, and the reputations and credibility of the individuals involved.

Assertions that "Karl Rove did it" are tiresome and, fairly, signs that the Kerry campaign did not think it could defeat the arguments of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth on their merits. They certainly failed to engage the group, another signal that the Kerry campaign feared a genuine debate about Senator Kerry's service.

Posted by: KM | June 17, 2006 4:28 PM

As a former CT resident I'll say only this:

Joe needs to give up and cross the aisle already.

Posted by: toony | June 17, 2006 5:06 PM

while i am not from ct and offer no opinion on whom should be your senator, i think there is a bit of an issue with both this article and the many comment-criticisms of the cartoon.

are any of you here old enough to remember fractured fairy tales and, if so, are you also familiar with webtoons, such as "happy tree friends" (currently highly-popular among an audience of mostly twenty-somethings)? if so, can you not see that the bear ad is a highly sytlized (almost, "period") piece, the humor of which is embedded in its style?

you seem to have enough complaints about the man himself and, from a strictly rhetorical perspective, you should sitck to them (i.e., the "facts"). you weaken your rhetorical position when you distract your listeners with complaints that are easily labeled subjective and, by some, a naive critique of the accuity of his campaign's p.r. firm.

or such are my thoughts.

and i like cartoons, too.

Posted by: Lunatic | June 17, 2006 6:15 PM

In addition, it's my understanding that the main reason Weicker lost re-election as Governor was primarily because (like Bush's father, ironically) he enacted a tax which he previously stated that he wouldn't do.

What a very bloodless way of putting it.

Weicker ran as an independent on the single promise to not enact the tax. Instead, he didn't just sign the tax, he vetoed the later attempt of the legislature to repeal it. He directly and completely betrayed every single voter who voted for his single-issue candidacy, disenfranchising them as completely as if he'd stolen the election for one of the other candidates.

That will make him essentially a spoiler like Ralph Nadar [sic].

No, not really. If Lieberman runs as an independent, the Republican still can't win, because Lieberman will win their stop-Lamont votes. If Lamont wins the Democratic nomination, either Lamont or Lieberman will be elected.

The Nader-like spoiler scenario comes from Weicker's threat to run as an anti-war independent if Lieberman wins the Democratic nomination. That could elect the Republican by splitting the Democratic vote.

Posted by: Hans Gruber | June 17, 2006 8:04 PM

"Rove's strategy first appeared in the 2004 presidential election. Democrat John Kerry was a war hero. George Bush was a National Guard dodger. Through a front group, the Bush team, fueled by corporate campaign contributions, unleased a torrent of commercials and other attacks portraying Kerry as the war shirker, through a disinformation campaign about the "Swift Boat" episode."

In an article purporting to expose dishonesty and misrepresentation, you sure have some cajones for trotting out this bald-faced lie.

Posted by: Jake (former nutmegger) | June 17, 2006 8:04 PM

I'm confused. Why does Lieberman advertise that someone who agrees with the Republicans eighty percent of the time gave him a campaign contribution?

Posted by: Fred of Del Mar | June 18, 2006 8:48 PM

all groups are funded by people who may be members of political parties..... but what you haven't proven is that the "Bush Team" directed the Swift Boat campaign, only that they were funded by people who support Bush....duh!

Posted by: nero | June 19, 2006 12:06 AM

Lame. Lamer. Lamest. Forget the infantile content. The production values make Saturday morning cartoons seem nuanced and polished works of art. Is this really a three-term incumbent U.S. Senator with a huge war chest? The most astounding part of the ad is at the end when Lieberman acknowledges approving the message. You have to question Joe's judgement. Simply amazing. Let's hope this spot runs a long time.

Posted by: Ron | June 19, 2006 2:32 PM

2003 voting record??!! Is that the best you can do in trying to show some hipocrisy? What about 2004,2005 and the first part of 2006. Give us the rest of the story! For alleged newspaper, this article was lame.

Posted by: J B | June 20, 2006 8:39 PM

John Kerry destroyed himself-- as far as I can tell. First, he sent his lawyers out to destroy Ralph Nadar (democrats are democracy? yeah right!) and, second, he tried to apologize for his antiwar statements during the vietnam war to the point where nobody knew who he was. Kerry could have won everyone over had he said something like: "when you fight a war, your emotions are complex." Instead, he took the one-sided-position of the the military industrial machine.

If Lamont is smart, he'll stay who he is and stay in touch with the people.

Goldilocks ate the bears porage and so can Lamont!

Posted by: Mark | June 21, 2006 12:29 PM

This article is completely ridiculous with more misreprentation and out and out falsehoods. First, the "Swift Boat" group has existed long before Karl Rove and George Bush entered national politics. The main principles of that group have been debating John Kerry and his Viet Nam record since the early 70's.

Second, to claim that George Bush is a "draft dodger" is preposterous. There is absolutely no evidence that Bush used his service to avoid serving in Viet Nam. Further, the record is very clear that instead of trying to avoid service in Viet Nam Bush volunteered for combat there. This request was not granted because only experienced National Guard pilots were allowed to fly in these combat missions. And, make no mistake about it, many of his fellow pilots in the National Guard flew and dies in Viet Nam.

Third, the writer of this editorial acts like Karl Rove invented negative campaigning. THe fact is that Rove is not the inventor and the Republicans are not the sole practitioners of negative campaigning. The "Bush Lied" mantra being propagated by the Democrats and their media allies is enough evidence of this fact.

Trying to link Lieberman to Bush is the act of political desparation. Conneticut has been represented by a truly outstanding individual who, although I do not agree with all of his policies, articulates them in a manner that creates respect from both sides of the aisle. Joe Lieberman is the example all politicians should follow.

Posted by: Don Meaker | June 28, 2006 10:59 PM

Lieberman is the only Dem I could vote for.

Posted by: Charles Daitz | August 4, 2006 11:57 PM

If Lamont were a gentleman he would leave the race now. Instead, he seems determined to make a solid Democratic seat a vulnerable one and be the poster boy for driving out the moderates of the party. If that is the new Democratic Party, it is DOA.

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