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Jewish World Review Dec. 1, 2000 / 23 Mar-Cheshvan, 5761

Chris Matthews

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Consumer Reports

Forget Gush/Bore, Lieberman and Cheney are ones to watch -- THIS LONG FLORIDA ELECTION night recalls the words of gangster Hyman Roth in Godfather II. "I tell myself," he said to young Michael Corleone, defending the treachery of rival and ally alike, "this is the business we have chosen."

For the past three weeks, America has gotten a wide-eyed look at the world I have spent a good part of three decades inhabiting: politics. Not the nice speeches and well-groomed TV appearances but the sweaty, Scrooge-like struggle for votes in rooms cameras never invade.

Numbers, numbers, numbers! That was always the game all those years I worked for Tip O'Neill. From Tuesday mornings, when the Massachusetts Irish met for unhealthy breakfasts, to late Thursday nights, when the big vote always seemed to come, numbers of votes were the currency of the House.

You found those votes anywhere you could. I remember Reagan hunting down a wavering Democrat in the party cloakroom, the other time he phoned a local Pennsylvania radio call-in show to successfully impress the local Congressman. I remember overhearing Tip telling one weak-willed member that he didn't care what the guy had said in some TV interview back home, he was voting the party line.

This is the struggle for ballots we're all watching down in Florida: backroom politics suddenly brought to the front pages and to cable primetime.

Like a kid lifting up a rock, we're confronting the soggy, swarming buglife of the world's oldest, strongest democracy.

And, no, it ain't exactly pretty. We see grown-ups acting with the awkward guile of teen-agers caught in the act: a secretary of state with the partisan predictability of a ward healer; a liberal, activist Florida Supreme Court that makes the Earl Warren court seem meek; vote counters with all the charm and non-partisanship of the McLaughlin Group.

The two toughest characters now on national display are the vice presidential running mates: Joe Lieberman and Dick Cheney.

The Democrat is especially hard to nail. That tearful voice masks an engine of ambition. While still in college, he wrote a book about the crafty party leader John Bailey. He won his Senate set by running to the right of the Republican incumbent, Lowell Weicker, on foreign policy, and to his left on domestic policy.

That's exactly what Jack Kennedy did to beat that other New England institution, Henry Cabot Lodge.

Again, don't let the hound-dog fatalism fool you. As a Senate freshman, Lieberman made it clear to me he would join fellow Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd in confirming John Tower for Defense secretary. The day later he voted to kill the nomination. Armed Services Chairman Sam Nunn had gotten to him.

Remember Lieberman going after Clinton on Monica? This time Senate leader, Tom Daschle, got to him. Instead of pushing a censure resolution, his moral Jeremiad against Clinton became something of a firewall for fellow Democrats: the president's behavior was immoral, not illegal.

Remember Joe's courageous assault on affirmative action as discrimination-in-reverse. Here again, the career came before the cause.

Picked by Gore, he signed on to Gore's positions. His job was to win the old folk of Florida, starting with Broward, Palm Beach and Miami, not give principled stemwinders about the historic evil of Ivy League ethnic quotas.

Watch him. Lieberman is the one who keeps Al Gore fighting. "There's no light between Al and him," his campaign chief of staff Tom Nides told me this week. "They feed on each other. When Joe Lieberman believes in something, he does what he believes. There's nothing stopping him."

This is Joe Lieberman's chance to be vice president, his surest route to the presidency itself. He knows, if others don't, that he is unlikely to get another.

The same is true of Dick Cheney. As someone who has felt the savagery of his attack, his take-no-prisoners partisanship, I can attest to it personally. All those years I worked for Speaker O'Neill, Cheney was one of the fiercest hardballers on the other side of the aisle.

Like Lieberman, he presented himself as a non-belligerent. He seduced the press with his buttoned-down shirts, his establishment persona. They keep on inquiring about his health when they should be asking about that of those who've faced him over the years.

Keep your eye on Lieberman and Cheney. This rough business down in Florida is precisely the business each of these surprisingly tough customers has chosen.

JWR contributor Chris Matthews is the author of Hardball. and hosts a CNBC show of the same name. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


11/21/00: Dead men voting
11/15/00: U.S. politcal geography: One nation, divisible
11/07/00: A real electoral horror show
10/31/00: The big lie: Every vote counts
10/17/00: Play White House admissions officer
10/11/00: Scandalous lack of awe for the office
10/03/00: Bush-Gore and the ghosts of Kennedy-Nixon
09/26/00: Candidates' night and day sides
09/19/00: Hillary goes legit
09/12/00: AlGore's silent partner
08/23/00: Truth and beauty in Bubba's farewell
08/16/00: The nation's prom king
08/07/00: The good soldier
08/02/00: Welcome to Philadelphia --- we had the first...
07/31/00: Bush-Cheney ticket: A constitutional problem
07/26/00: If Bush is an IPO, Gore is a store
07/24/00: Will being 'better' sink Hillary?
07/19/00: Pre-convention calm?
07/17/00: AlGore is executing a double dose of imitation 07/10/00: Mexicans elect a Bush Republican
07/10/00:Another kind of McCarthyism
07/06/00: How Bubba's teapots clang
07/03/00: AlGore's latest hazard
06/29/00: No echoes in this presidential choice
06/26/00: Death joins the debate
06/21/00: Jerry Brown tells AlGore how to 'wage' campaign
06/19/00: Squishy logic for soft money
06/15/00: Citizen Kane, 113 years later
06/12/00: Kennedy-Nixon redux?
06/07/00: Bush says 'I do' to reality
06/05/00: Clinton's odd silence on his achievements
06/02/00: Pelosi, a voice for human rights
05/30/00: Bubba's escape hatches
05/23/00: Who typifies leadership?
05/19/00: Bubba's legacy involves AIDS
05/16/00: Dubyah's outlook for 'playoffs' remains perilous
05/11/00: Giuliani's travels
05/09/00: A Yale degree, a Bob Jones education
05/03/00: Show of force!
05/01/00: Abortion polls don't reflect reality
04/28/00: Bill Russell and American racism
04/24/00: Vietnam 25 -- The good, bad and ugly
04/19/00: Nader's threat to Gore in California
04/17/00: Berkeley politician visits with Elian's father
04/14/00: Clinton and the Castro curse
04/11/00: Men who saved Elián from the sea
04/06/00: Caine should coach politicians
04/03/00: No. 2 spots: Woman-to-woman?
03/29/00: Gray for veep and Gore might coast to victory
03/27/00: The secret life of a CIA wife
03/22/00: 'We're suckers for underdogs'
03/20/00: Bush's California dream vs. reality
03/06/00: Scary Gore vs. hopeful Bush
03/06/00: McCain's appeal to 'Reagan Democrats'
03/01/00: John McCain fits a hero's profile
02/28/00: Grading the American presidents
02/25/00: Clinton remains No. 1 issue
02/23/00: Will Ross Perot aid POW McCain?
02/18/00: McCain faces fury of GOP establishment
02/17/00: Citizen Springer
02/14/00: McCainia and the frisky independents
02/07/00: A prime-time primary for California
02/02/00: Clinton's final campaign: Take the blame
01/31/00: Which GOPer is willing to pay for his positions?
01/27/00: John McCain's gay radar
01/25/00: This time, candidates get 'authenticity' check
01/18/00: AIDS dooms 1 in 4 in tiny Swaziland
01/13/00: Complacency might be the campaign key
01/10/00: A choice, not an echo
01/06/00: The role of a lifetime
01/03/00: Dangers in Gore's dirty war
12/30/99: Churchill's fighting words saved the century
12/28/99: Candidate Gore's separation anxiety
12/17/99: Catch 22: Leading candidates don't lead
12/17/99: New Democratic leader on the horizon
12/15/99: Is Hillary clueless?
12/08/99: Taking Buchananism to the streets
12/03/99: Why are we so obsessed with 'spin'?
12/01/99: Donald Trump, 'Sinatra of Steel'
11/29/99: Why AlGore will be our next president
11/23/99: After the fall
11/17/99: Our conveniently forgetful president
11/15/99: Next president: Male, WASP, self-selected
11/10/99: Backroom Bill
11/08/99: Please don't feed the 'pander bears'
11/03/99: Battle of the Bubba clones
11/01/99: Pat Buchanan, kamikaze candidate
10/27/99: The year of the woman... voter
10/25/99: The Curse of the Bubba
10/21/99: GOP gives Clinton his finest hour
10/18/99: Clinton's last hurrah
10/13/99: Rough seas for Capt. Ventura
10/11/99: Gore targets Bradley's strength
10/06/99: Bradley's got the right Rx
10/04/99: Buchanan, Churchill and Hitler
09/30/99: Who'll spin political gold in Golden State — Gore or Bradley?
09/27/99: Here's a millennial checklist for candidates
09/22/99: The biography battle
09/20/99: Buchanan's new book is a must-read
09/15/99: Don't rule out Beatty
09/13/99: The man with the sun on his face
09/08/99: W. vs. Jr. on dope and the draft
The FALN: Hillary's Willie Horton
08/26/99: Bill's guilt fuels Hill's race
08/25/99: The seemingly inexhaustible strength of America's free enterprise
08/23/99: GOP candidates are weak also-rans
08/16/99: Bubba on Bubba
08/11/99: Hillary's agonizing attempts to understand
08/09/99: With warm regards, Richard Nixon
08/04/99: Weicker: real third party is on the Left
08/02/99: Dubyah's last hangover
07/27/99: Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh; capitalism is gonna win

© 2000, NEA