The announcement by Senator Joe Lieberman that he will not run for reelection when his current term is up in 2012 triggered the Monitor’s memories of the highlight of Lieberman’s political career: Al Gore’s selecting him in August 2000 to be his vice-presidential running mate.
Media coverage was mostly positive in the days immediately following the announcement. The editors of The New Republic saw the Lieberman pick as symbolizing the tolerance and decency of American society. “America,” they stated, “represents not only a revolution in the history of the world, but also a revolution in the history of the Jews…. this is the place in which Jews, and all other groups whose collective memory teaches them to regard the world with suspicion, must learn to take yes for an answer.”
The fear that conservative Christians would collectively vote against the Gore/Lieberman ticket out of some atavistic anti-Semitic instinct was pooh-poohed by, among others, former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan, who described how conservative Christians “crowd around Rabbi Daniel Lapin when he speaks at a conservative gathering; they crowd around Dennis Prager, Michael Medved, David Horowitz and scores of [other Jewish conservatives].”
Lieberman’s outspoken religiosity inspired the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Paul Greenberg to quip, “Who would have guessed that the first fundamentalist to be nominated for vice president of the United States would be a Jewish one?” But Greenberg pointedly added: “One suspects that if Senator Lieberman were an equally committed Baptist or Mormon, many of those now hailing his nomination would be murmuring darkly about the dangers of the Religious Right.”
For some, Lieberman’s Jewishness was the ethnic/religious cherry on top of his political centrism. Former Forward editor Seth Lipsky wrote that “what excited me about Lieberman was his willingness to depart from post-McGovern Democratic Party orthodoxy on certain issues, or at least to display an admirable indifference to questions of political correctness.”
Even so, Lipsky feared that Lieberman, whose Senate voting record was considerably more liberal than his moderate image suggested, is not “immune to all his party’s destructive impulses…. [and he] has been right there by Hillary Clinton’s side as she has sought to obfuscate a record on the Middle East (and much else) that springs from the very new-leftist sentiments that drove so many of us away from the Democratic Party.”
It took only about a week for the coverage of Lieberman to sour considerably as many of the nation’s pundits beheld the senator from Connecticut backpedal, prevaricate and obfuscate his way through the Democratic National Convention.
In a devastating analysis piece, the late New York Timespolitical reporter R.W. Apple Jr. noted that since “Mr. Gore has a bit of a reputation for flip-flopping and corner-cutting on issues like abortion and trade,” it had been hoped by campaign strategists that Lieberman “would lend the ticket some stand-by-your-guns luster.”
But “much of that [luster],” Apple warned, “could be lost if the senator seemed to be bending to political expediency at this stage.”
Apple then proceeded to run down the laundry list of issues on which Lieberman had indeed, literally within hours of his selection, bowed to political expediency. (Among the several examples cited: Despite his having sponsored – and repeatedly voted for – experimental voucher legislation in the Senate, Lieberman, as soon as he was chosen by Gore, phoned the president of the American Federation of Teachers and “promised that a Gore-Lieberman administration would be resolutely anti-voucher.”)
Sam Schulman, at the time a columnist for the New York Press, asked: “What price Jewish values if within a week Senator Lieberman has changed course on virtually every one of his core ideas in pursuit of his political ambitions?”
Lieberman, continued Schulman, “has agreed to sell out virtually every principle which he has advocated in the past,” including moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
The late Sidney Zion also weighed in that week, charging that Lieberman’s “Senate record reveals a man who has trimmed his sails more than a little to satisfy Bill Clinton and his pro-Palestinian Jewish advisers in the State Department and National Security Council.”
And Zion called attention to Lieberman’s recent declaration on “Meet the Press” that Pat Buchanan is “not at all an anti-Semite.” In case anyone missed the point, Lieberman elaborated: “I enjoy Pat Buchanan’s company, he’s a bright, interesting guy who’s been misinterpreted.”
It was precisely such sappy talk and political shape-shifting on Lieberman’s part, wrote Zion, that had “made some Jews stop kvelling in their tractates over the first Jew to make a major-party national ticket.”