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Jewish World Review March 30, 2001 / 6 Nissan, 5761

Dan K. Thomasson

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Consumer Reports

Lieberman plots his future -- IF anyone doubted what Sen. Joe Lieberman's ambitions are, he dispelled them at breakfast the other day.

The former Democratic vice presidential candidate was the featured interviewee for 50 to 60 longtime media regulars gathered for the 35thh anniversary of these events sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor's irrepressible Godfrey "Budge" Sperling, a Washington institution himself.

For the Connecticut senator it was an opportunity to get serious with the press after a bravura performance last weekend in a much lighter vein at the annual spring dinner of the Washington Gridiron Club, where his self-deprecating, ethnic-tinged humor was a hit. The very fact he has been willing to seek such exposure should provide more than ample evidence of his intentions.

Very simply, Lieberman wants to be the Democratic nominee for president in 2004 and in the vacuum created by Albert Gore's decision to lay low at Columbia University for the time being, is moving to establish himself as the leader of the party's center. He has taken a highly visible role in the debates over taxes and campaign finance reform and recently held a political strategy luncheon that obviously was aimed at talking about the mechanics of a presidential race.

Among a number of Democratic big-league players and strategists were several who had previously worked closely with Gore. According to press reports they included Ronald Klain, Gore's former vice presidential chief of staff; Tina Flournoy, Gore's finance director, and Stuart Eizenstat, who served in both the Clinton and Carter administrations.

The next president?

While expressing his gratitude to Gore for selecting him as his running mate and professing that what the former vice president does will have an effect on his own decision, Lieberman has no intention of putting aside his ambitions in deference to another Gore candidacy no matter how "awkward" he says he feels about it at this time or how self-effacing he seems.

The discussion of his future plans stemmed from a question about how much contact he has had with Gore since the election, which judging from his answer, was far less than one would suppose. He said he speaks to Gore "often" but didn't elaborate.

The fact is that a growing number of Democrats believe the senator in the long run was a better candidate than Gore and that in the last analysis, Gore took the party too far left, squandering the record of the Clinton administration. It is a belief Lieberman himself seems to share without saying so as he talks candidly about the need for Democrats to get back to the center, a task in which he is willing to assume a lead role.

George W. Bush, he said, effectively campaigned to the center where a majority of American voters time and again have shown they are most comfortable. Since he took office, however, Lieberman charges the president has begun governing to the right and is vulnerable because of it.

At the same time, he moderates his attacks on the president. He said that while Bush isn't responsible for a slowdown in the economy, the president did something "disingenuous," perhaps even "hurtful" to consumer confidence, by overstating its seriousness to promote his tax cut agenda.

While the luncheon Lieberman held on Capitol Hill ostensibly was designed to promote him as a leader of centrist Democrats, much of the discussion reportedly was about the next presidential election and his possible position in it. Although it is too early to make any definitive declarations, it is not too soon to make some preliminary decisions, such as establishing a political action committee, which Lieberman has done, and lining up the potential supporters and advisers that he will need.

Lieberman clearly possess several things that Gore does not, including an ability to connect with voters. He is likable, open, and able apparently to laugh at himself. He is not self-conscious about being the first of his faith to run for the vice presidency nor would he be in running for the presidency.

There is, of course, another factor here. Much of the party blames the loss of the election on Gore's inability to sell himself or take advantage of the peace and prosperity of the Clinton years. Right now Lieberman is showing the proper deference to Gore for choosing him as his running mate. It is in Lieberman's nature to do so and that is one of the things that makes him attractive to voters.

But realistically, that attitude already is being questioned by some of Lieberman's supporters who don't believe Gore would do the same under similar circumstances. Lieberman's candid "breakfast with Budge" was an indication the senator has begun to see it that way, too.

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03/23/01: When appointing federal judges, records unblemished by brilliance, accomplishment or the evidence of independent thought are rewarded
03/21/01: On campaign finance reform, is something better than nothing?
03/19/01: Will Gore get another shot?
03/13/01: Bashing business not Bush's style
03/13/01: The senior Bush's unseemly job
02/27/01: Is that J. Edgar Hoover turning in his grave?
02/23/01: Goodbye to the SATs --- and good riddance!
02/20/01: How gullible does Clinton think we are?
02/16/01: Milking nonsense for all its worth
02/13/01: The need for a one-armed economist
02/09/01: Move over, Bonnie and Clyde

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