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Jewish World Review August 16, 2000/ 15 Menachem-Av, 5760


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Let us now pray -- AS THE DAYS -- not weeks -- roll by it's clear that Al Gore's choice of Sen. Joe Lieberman as his runningmate was not a smart one.

My instantaneous reaction to the news was that the Vice President had dodged the Sen. John Kerry bullet and instead picked a man who was the first Democrat to publicly criticize Bill Clinton's scandalous behavior during the Monica Lewinsky saga. That he was an Orthodox Jew was a bonus: another political barrier, albeit a rather minor one, broken down. Not that it helped Fritz Mondale one iota in '84 when he ran with Gerry Ferraro, but still.

Frankly, I believe that Gore was boxed into tapping Lieberman after Democratic National Committee Chairman Ed Rendell said on Aug. 5 that if Lieberman were Episcopalian he'd be "a slam dunk" as Gore's number two.

As it happens, a Gore source of mine was seated near Rendell at a fundraiser two weekends ago and the DNC chairman didn't mention Lieberman as a realistic possibility: "It was Edwards, Edwards, Edwards." After Rendell's remarks caused a stir, the unlucky Gore faced the real possibility that Jews, a key component of his base, would rebel if Lieberman were bypassed.

Anyway, after the surprise wore off, Lieberman revealed himself to be a fraud of biblical proportions. In his Nashville speech on Aug. 8, the Connecticut Senator was hyperbolic to the point of offense. He said: "Dear L-rd, maker of all miracles, I thank you for bringing me to this extraordinary moment in my life. And Al Gore, I thank you for making this miracle possible for me and breaking this barrier for the rest of America forever. G-d bless you and thank you."

I can't understand how Lieberman, a devoutly religious man, could trivialize the workings of the G-d he worships. The Senator's possible career advancement is not a "miracle": to say so demeans the very word. A cure for Alzheimer's disease or obesity would be a miracle; so would the elimination of drug addiction; and ridding America of immoral and corrupt elected officials, trial lawyers, race-baiting demagogues and sanctimonious first ladies, preachers, rabbis, union leaders and businessmen would certainly qualify as a miracle. But Joe Lieberman's ascension to the Democratic ticket as vice presidential nominee, even if he's the first Jew to attain that honor, is a miracle? I don't think so.

Jiminy Cricket

Much has been made by the elite media of Lieberman's reputation as the "conscience of the Senate." Jiminy Cricket should be cryin' in his beer. Already, Lieberman has flip-flopped on issues in order to be compatible with Gore. The man who once favored school vouchers and the modernization of Social Security has now retreated from those sensible stances. And isn't all the exultation over Lieberman's religion tremendously condescending to American Jews? You'd think the Senator was chosen because he could be an able president should the occasion arise; the fact that he's Jewish is not an earth-shattering qualification. In fact, it's tokenism that harms Jews and the country as a whole. Joe Lieberman is no Jackie Robinson.

Another troubling thought: How can Mr. Morality, who's been lauded by conservatives for his speech about Clinton's conduct and his campaign against the sex and violence that pours out of Hollywood every day, reconcile being aligned with Gore with his beliefs? The Vice President showed no guts at all when Clinton disgraced the nation; instead he called his boss one of the "greatest presidents" in American history. And Lieberman now says that judgment of the President's perjury and immorality is best left to historians. As Dorothy Rabinowitz wrote in the Aug. 14 Wall Street Journal: "Most Americans, and their dogs and their cats, know perfectly well whether Bill Clinton is the equal of Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln. They know Mr. Lieberman knows it too."

And what about all the money that Gore has taken from the entertainment moguls Lieberman holds responsible for the degradation of modern culture?

Ambition always rules: for the glory of running with Al Gore, Lieberman has willingly developed a case of amnesia. The illegal fundraising of the '96 Clinton-Gore campaign didn't exist. Monica Lewinsky? Hmm, can't place that name. Last Sunday, on CNN's Late Edition, the Senator commented on Clinton's nauseating "apology" for his personal mistakes before 4500 ministers in Chicago last week: "I thought the President was being very sincere. To me, the timing seems coincidental." On the same day, Lieberman told Meet the Press' Tim Russert that the Republicans are exploiting Clinton's scandals only because his "record is so great."

Monica (Actual photo)

If Lieberman really is as virtuous as his supporters claim, he'd have said, "No thank you, Mr. Vice President," when Gore made his offer.

And in stark political terms, Gore has goofed again. Lieberman doesn't help coalesce the Democratic base of voters, a chore that Gore, at this late date, still hasn't achieved. In fact, he's liable to solidify Ralph Nader's support among the most left-wing members of the party. As Robert Scheer wrote in the Los Angeles Times last week: "What a gutless wonder Al Gore is turning out to be... [Lieberman] has attempted to outdo his ally, William Bennett, in the culture wars that have censorship as their end game. That was Lieberman's message when he rose to denounce Clinton in the Senate, employing the same arguments as the Christian right moralizers that the president's transgressions were part of a national moral decay brought on by the right's favorite scapegoat, Hollywood... Gore did not need another prude at his side. He already had Tipper."

If Al Gore had wanted to make a statement by choosing a Jew, why not Sens. Paul Wellstone or Russ Feingold, two men from usually reliable Democratic states where George W. Bush is currently leading in the polls? The Vice President said last spring that campaign finance reform would be his number-one priority when elected-we'll let it slide for the moment that he's had about 18 "number-one" priorities-which was a naked grab for McCain voters. On the off chance that Gore was telling the truth, Feingold, who teamed up with McCain on that First Amendment-busting issue in the Senate, would've been a magnificent choice.


Once again, I'll say that the veep candidate who most worried me as a Bush supporter was Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the schoolmarmish lieutenant governor of Maryland. KKT would've been a hell of a lot more effective than Lieberman in rallying the troops. Just imagine all those Kennedys, spread out across the country, invoking JFK, JFK Jr. and RFK. And there'd be in play the idea that Townsend, who's not yet 50, would have a real chance at becoming the United States' first woman president. That would've been the bold choice. As for her limited experience, that's nonsense: once in office, she'd become familiar with the job, and it's not as if she doesn't have about 100 Camelot tutors to call upon. I think KKT would've been more than a weeklong story; in fact, she might've put Gore in the White House. But her selection was too "risky."

Time, in its Aug. 21 issue, once again disgraced its legendary founder Henry Luce with this predictable headline that accompanied a cover photo of Lieberman and Gore: "Chutzpah!" That silliness reminded me of a comment I read in Neil Steinberg's Aug. 10 Chicago Sun-Times column: "First of all, it certainly is a huge, honking deal to Jews. I know when I heard the news, the tight knot of contempt and distaste I felt for Gore magically melted away. Sincerely. It was amazing. One moment I was resigned to probably voting for him, holding my nose, and the next I was imagining myself leading a torchlight parade for Gore down Michigan Avenue, wearing his face on a big button shaped like a sunflower."

Holy smokes. If that's the reaction a craggy senator who happens to be Jewish can elicit from a journalist, you have to wonder why Gore didn't set his sights higher. Just imagine how his poll numbers would've soared had he chosen Brad Pitt, Regis Philbin or Julia Roberts.


Jonathan Alter, writing in the Aug. 21 Newsweek, was more unbearable than usual, with an essay called "Post-Seinfeld America." By the end of the piece the reader feels as if he's gone to Hebrew school with Alter, such is the exuberance the author displays for Lieberman. I'll let Alter's absurd contention that Yiddish expressions seemed "on the verge of extinction a generation ago" go and leave you with just one distasteful morsel. He writes: "[I]f Gore wins, Clean Joe Lieberman will be seen as Gore's air freshener, his inoculation against Clinton Sleaze Syndrome. There's an irony in those medical metaphors. Nazi propaganda harped on the dirty Jew, infecting Aryan purity. Now, an American Jew is seen as a disinfectant."

Really, Uncle Jon? Next time, could you tell us about that man named Adolf Hitler?

And The New York Times' Bernard Weinraub and Elisabeth Bumiller ought to be boxed off to the paper's farm team, The Boston Globe, for the following lead paragraph in their Aug. 14 story on Lieberman. Wince with me: "Maybe Jackie Mason should worry. After all, the Democratic vice-presidential nominee seems to enjoy using Yiddish words like 'chutzpah' and Jewish-style phrases that have not often been heard on the national campaign trail."

Two more notes: Andrew Sullivan, former editor of Marty Peretz's Gore tip-sheet The New Republic, has lots ogf guts. It was just last week that Sullivan's return to the magazine, where he'll write the "TRB" column every week, was announced. Yet in the Aug. 13 Sunday Times of London, Sullivan wrote, under the headline "Jewish gamble may cost votes": "It's a Jew! The ethnic hyperventilation in America last week reached new, cringe-inducing heights. In a country whose mass media are not known for their complex descriptions of public figures, the Jewishness of Joseph Lieberman, Al Gore's running mate, was the beginning, middle and end of the story... Gore himself talked about bringing down walls of division with this one stroke of ethnic genius. Lieberman, for his part, mentioned God 13 times in 90 seconds. And these are new Democrats-men for whom ethnic bean-counting is supposed to be anathema."

Finally, National Review's John J. Miller had a smart bit in his Aug. 10 online dispatch. He recounted a joke that Bill Maher, host of Politically Incorrect and a Bill Clinton buddy, made on Aug. 7. The "joke" went like this: "This Gore-Lieberman ticket is working because Bush, you know, the little Bush kid running for president, he had a 19-point lead the other day. It is now down to 2. Wow. Whatever. But this is the first time in history a Jew has knocked 80 percent off."

Miller's rejoinder: "What if Pat Buchanan had said that on Crossfire?"

JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and CEO of New York Press ( Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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