Click on banner ad to support JWR

Jewish World Review August 10, 2000 / 9 Menachem-Av, 5760

Ben Wattenberg

Ben Wattenberg
JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
James Glassman
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
John Leo
David Limbaugh
Michelle Malkin
Jackie Mason
Chris Matthews
Michael Medved
Kathleen Parker
Wes Pruden
Debbie Schlussel
Sam Schulman
Amity Shlaes
Roger Simon
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports

Lieberman! -- FORTY YEARS AGO, in Cummings Park in Stamford, Conn., I watched a 17-year-old boy give a speech at a Democratic rally. Many in the audience were my friends and neighbors. The young politico was common-sensical, dramatic, even lyrical. A man whispered to me, "That Joe Lieberman; someday he's going to be president."

I have been publicly plugging Lieberman (D-Conn.) for national office since 1988. I am pleased at his being selected as Vice President Al Gore's running mate (even though I had a column half-written explaining how the 2000 race between George W. Bush and Richard Cheney versus Gore and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) would be between two conservatives versus two liberals, with Bush winning.)

It is no secret to anyone reading this column in recent months that I was planning to vote for Bush. The Democratic Party, I felt, was going lefter and lefter, and Gore was playing to that in a way I found offensive. But Lieberman is no lefty. Instead, he has proven that a man of the middle can offer a dynamic, creative view and attract important constituencies. Not only that, he'll bring in the swing state of Connecticut with its eight electoral votes.

It is usually true that voters choose presidents, not vice presidents. One oft-noted exception is the 1960 race when John F. Kennedy picked Lyndon B. Johnson. That selection, it is said, carried Texas for the Democrats, enabling Kennedy to win. Actually, Johnson did more than that. The Democratic Party was riven. Its so-called Solid South was on the verge of crumbling. Johnson helped keep Kennedy competitive in many Southern states, in addition to Texas.

As usual, today the Democratic Party is split, this time perhaps three ways. There are a few troglodytes like me, the so-called "neo-conservatives" or "Reagan Democrats." There are so-called "New Democrats," moderates with solid views, who cluster around the Democratic Leadership Council, whose president is Joe Lieberman. There is an activist left wing that during the primaries piped the tune for both Gore and his challenger Bill Bradley. This infuriated the DLC, which saw Gore's centrist credentials erode.

Can Lieberman help bridge this gap, help pull together the wings of the party, and move the Gore campaign into a competitive mode with the independent center of the American electorate? Can he be Gore's Johnson?

The choice of Lieberman highlights a few facts. If you believed that "the polls don't matter this early," I would like to introduce you to my good friend the Tooth Fairy. The Gore campaign was in deep trouble. When you're in trouble in politics, shake things up. The Lieberman choice shakes things up.

Lieberman will help with the Democrats of the center, and among some Reagan Democrats. He can help Gore become more credible to the independent center.

Lieberman is a "modern orthodox" Jew. He will not work on Saturday on partisan political matters, but will discharge any important public duties. I don't think many Americans will find it unacceptable that a religious man holds the Sabbath holy.

Lieberman will help with the Jewish vote. There are solid Jewish populations in some big, close states like Ohio, Illinois, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Typically, about 70 percent of those voters cast their ballots for Democrats. But if some Republican Jews move to Lieberman because he's Jewish, that might tip a very close state.

Some Catholic Republicans voted for Democrat John Kennedy in 1960 to show that a Catholic could be elected in this pluralist country. Some Republican Greek-Americans voted for Michael Dukakis. Had Colin Powell been picked as Bush's v.p., many Democratic blacks would have voted for the GOP ticket. I am Jewish. If in addition to public reasons, I opine for Lieberman in the months to come for personal or parochial reasons, I will do everything I can to let readers know that's what I'm doing.

Actually, if I do end up pulling the Democratic lever, it will be for more than that. Nothing is for free in politics. Lieberman has a downside for Democrats. He will be attacked by the left wing of the Democratic left. The man is just too sensible. For example, he has supported experiments with school vouchers and shown open-mindedness about independent investment accounts within Social Security. These views have been attacked by many Democrats, including Gore. If some left-leaning Democrats flake off for Ralph Nader, or don't vote, that could harm Gore, although fear of a Bush victory will drive many of them back to Gore-Lieberman.

But if a Gore-Lieberman ticket stands strong and is elected, it is possible, but not necessarily probable, that a new Democratic party really would be pulled toward the center this time, where they belong. That would be good for America. We should learn a lot about such a possibility during the campaign. So, for the moment, count me as moving from Bush to undecided.

Ben Wattenberg is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and is the moderator of PBS's "Think Tank." You may comment by clicking here.

Ben Wattenberg Archives

© 2000, NEA