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Matt Lieberman Will Bring Compassion, Wisdom and Integrity to the People of Georgia

The Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate helped me when I was having trouble years ago

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The state of Georgia, like our nation, recently declared a state of emergency due to the coronavirus pandemic.  

This comes after the NCAA canceled March Madness, the finals of which were going to be held in Atlanta.

And the city’s airport, a major hub, will not serve, at least for now, as a destination from Europe, whose flights to our country have been, for the most part, suspended by the Trump administration.

Much of the country, like the state of Georgia, is shutting down.  And much of the country is burned out by the incompetence, lack of preparedness and lies, to say nothing of the perilous hygiene, coming from the White House.

One person who wants to end this disgrace is Matt Lieberman, a Democrat, who is running for the U.S. Senate in Georgia’s special election to replace Johnny Isakson, who retired due to an illness in December.

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, a Republican, appointed Kelly Loeffler to the vacant seat, which she now holds.

Lieberman hopes to be the Democratic nominee, and he is battling two other contenders for that spot.

The Georgia primary, which was scheduled for March 24, has been delayed nearly two months due to the novel coronavirus and will now take place on May 19.

A few days ago on March 13, Lieberman distributed an e-mail, in which he revealed a family tragedy that occurred during the 1918 flu epidemic.

Lieberman’s great-grandmother, a Jewish immigrant from Poland, died in New York from that epidemic.

After she passed away, Matt Lieberman’s grandfather, Henry, was placed in an orphanage.

Henry would later move out of the orphanage to Connecticut, where he ran a small business.

His son, Joe, who would become a four-term U.S. Senator from Connecticut, was the first person in the family to go to college, Yale, as it turns out.

While he excelled at Yale and Yale Law School, Joe Lieberman, who was Al Gore’s vice-presidential running mate in 2000, never forgot his humble beginnings.  And he never forgot the tragedy that struck his family and many others throughout the world when his father, Henry, lost his mother to the flu epidemic and then was sent to the orphanage in New York.

Thankfully, Joe Lieberman bestowed onto his son, Matt, the importance of humility and compassion, as well as the blessing of helping others.

Given the coronavirus pandemic that we are all now facing, Matt Lieberman, in last Friday’s e-mail, which included a video, spoke of the need for everyone to maintain social distancing to mitigate the spread and severity of COVID-19.

A father of two daughters, Lieberman referred in his video to graphics that have now become quite familiar to all of us.  While the color schemes vary given the media outlet, the graphics that Lieberman embedded in his e-mail, courtesy of the Washington Post, feature two curves, one that is blue and flattened, and one that is yellowish and tent-like.  

In his video, Lieberman discussed the response of policymakers in St. Louis at the time of the 1918 flu epidemic and how they quickly enacted policies of social distancing.

This decision ended up saving lives, as evidenced by that flattened, blue curve in the graphics.

By contrast, policymakers in Philadelphia in 1918 did not take prompt action, and as a result many more people died of the flu in that city.  The surge in deaths can be seen by the tent-like peak on the chart that Lieberman provided in his e-mail.

It is clear that Lieberman, a Yale-trained lawyer, a former high school teacher and health care entrepreneur, has command of and respect for science-based policies that can help the people of Georgia.

It is also clear to me that Lieberman has character, which, while often in short supply in Washington, is acutely lacking in many precincts these days.

I can attest to Lieberman’s ethical compass, strength and compassion.

Let me relate a story that happened years ago when Matt Lieberman and I were in high school together in New Haven, Conn.

I got to know Matt when I was the sports editor and, a year later, the editor-in-chief of The Razor, the student newspaper at Hopkins, a prep school that we both attended.

I can recall watching Matt, who in those days had a somewhat husky build, play basketball on the junior school team at Hopkins when he was in 8th grade.  For basketball fans, who are suffering without games right now, you might be comforted in knowing that Matt, a power forward, was a good post-up player.  (I always wondered if he was a distant relative of Nancy Lieberman, the pioneering women’s basketball star in the 1970s.)

Two years behind me at Hopkins, Matt was also a cub reporter for The Razor, when I was a senior and the editor-in-chief.

At that time,The Razor’s faculty adviser, Susan Feinberg, a sage to many students and future writers, showed much care and thoughtfulness when she invited Joe Lieberman, who had just been elected attorney general of the state of Connecticut, to give the keynote address at our school’s publications banquet in 1983.

After I delivered my parting speech, Joe Lieberman recounted his days at the Yale Daily News, where he had served as editor-in-chief or chairman of the board.

But before Joe Lieberman spoke, he did a very kind and generous thing for me.

Matt, who was already a mensch in high school, had told his father about how a few students at Hopkins were slandering me, trying to harm my reputation, even threatening to sue me, based on nothing but lies.

For decades, bullies and other sadists targeted me because they perceived that I, like a lot of creative people, was sensitive and vulnerable.  Years later, when I was in my early thirties, I would be diagnosed with schizophrenia.

But even as a little boy, I had been singled out for abuse.

As I have written before, my anti-Semitic kindergarten teacher sent me to the “dunce corner” repeatedly after I, the only Jewish kid in my public school class, missed several days of school for the Jewish High Holidays in October 1970.

Because of the severity of that trauma, which included my kindergarten teacher’s smacking my left hand and preventing me from using my dominant side, I dissociated for decades from the sustained psychological and physical torture that took place when I was five years old.  

So, when a few jerks, who had not worked hard or excelled at Hopkins, slandered me and tried to hurt me in other ways, Matt Lieberman told his father.

And Joe Lieberman, the Connecticut attorney general, stepped up and put an end to the machinations and threats of those jerks.

All these years later, I am no longer dissociating.  I have a clear understanding of who is my friend and who is not.

Matt Lieberman is such a friend.  

He is a mensch, an honorable man, who cares about and will certainly fight on behalf of those who have been marginalized or are perceived to be the other.

This is especially important now, because we are living at a time of increased xenophobia, racism and anti-Semitism, all of which, sadly, have been exacerbated by the coronavirus outbreak.

Yes, some communities come together in crises, like the people of Siena, Italy, who opened their windows and inspired all of us by singing their local anthem with poignance and beauty from behind quarantined walls.

Unfortunately, there are also people, including some on Pennsylvania Avenue, who scapegoat the other, particularly during crises.

There will always be sadists, bullies and frauds, who prey upon the marginalized, such as immigrants and minorities, as well as people with mental illness.  

But it is also true that there will always be mensches, who, when they witness evil, will step up and do the right thing, by thwarting such sadism.

I greatly appreciated the video that Matt Lieberman included in his e-mail, the video concerning the 1918 flu epidemic and how it brought tragedy to his family.

I know that Matt, who started up his own health care business in Georgia, where he has lived for some time, will do his best to protect his constituents.  He will make an outstanding United States Senator, like his father, Joe.

Like most Americans, the Liebermans were once immigrants to this country.  And Matt, like his father, has never forgotten his family’s modest origins.

Their story is right out of Dickens.  It also reminds me of The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, one of the greatest Americans.

Like Henry Lieberman, Benjamin Franklin had a blighted childhood, in his case, in Boston, before he moved to Philadelphia, where he became a major printer and publisher.

Needless to say, Franklin, like Joe Lieberman, then served our country at the highest levels of government, among his many sterling achievements.

Matt Lieberman is also a leader of great strength, wisdom and compassion.

He wants to fight what he aptly calls the “arrogance and cowardice” of so many of our politicians in Washington.  He believes in science and fact-based progressive policies.  As a former schoolteacher, he knows firsthand how critical it is to ban assault weapons at the national level, a policy that could help end another epidemic, that of mass shootings.  And he wants to give the people of Georgia, young and old, a sense of hope that we will once again be a country of fairness, empathy and the truth, not a nation that is run by bullies, liars and men, who are perhaps ordinarily decent, but who have turned into lackeys as obsequious as Uriah Heep.

Unlike those hacks, Matt Lieberman is a man of principle, who, I am convinced, will speak truth to power.  

Lieberman, who created a company that provided health care to small businesses, individuals and unions, knows that the coronavirus crisis may not end anytime soon.  COVID-19 may last for months.  And it could come back next winter and for years to come, until we develop a successful vaccine, something that might take years, not months.

We should not forget that this is a new virus, nor should we forget that vaccines for malaria, HIV and tuberculosis, among other illnesses, remain elusive, a point made by Dr. Thomas Frieden, former director of the CDC, on Fareed Zakaria’s CNN show on Sunday.

In the end, somewhere between 40% to 70% of Americans may contract the novel coronavirus, according to experts, as noted in The Atlantic and elsewhere.

It is somewhat heartening to know that many of us, who practice good hygiene and social distancing and are in relatively good health, will produce antibodies that may immunize us, to a degree, from COVID-19 in the future.

Before that happens, though, we may have to go on lockdown for as long as eight weeks, the amount of time recommended by the CDC for avoiding public gatherings of 50 or more people.  

Similarly, when asked how long we might have to practice social distancing, Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel cited that very figure on Ana Cabrera’s CNN show this past Sunday.  Emanuel prefaced his estimate by stating that he is not an epidemiological modeler, but he cited that figure because that is roughly the amount of time that it has taken for China and South Korea to mitigate the virus and to see a reduction in the numbers infected and killed.

No matter what, we will get through this contagion, just as we got through other emergencies, such as 9/11, Pearl Harbor, the Great Depression and the flu epidemic of 1918.

I know that Matt Lieberman, who respects science and prizes the truth, will make a very fine U.S. Senator for Georgia.  He and other mensches are already stepping up and looking out for everyday citizens, including those of us who have been harmed and treated as the other.

And Matt Lieberman has the intelligence, integrity and experience to steer Georgians through this crisis as well as other challenges that all Americans will confront in the future.

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