The Green Papers Commentary

Joseph Lieberman as the Democratic vice-presidential candidate

Tuesday, August 8, 2000

"The Green Papers" Staff

Four days ago, I wrote the following after summing up the end of the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia: still had to give the Vice President the "extra Field Goal" in the "spread"- if only for "Home Field advantage".

But that advantage was, by now, fast slipping away: the opposition had come out of their Convention only one fumble deep in Democrat territory away from a decisive score late in the game.

So now Al Gore is quarterbacking what is hoped, by the Democrats, to be a long drive intended to eat up the clock in order to score late enough in the game and, in addition, prevent the Republicans from having too much time to execute a winning drive of their own. Gore starts off still deep in Democrat territory, one misplay away from certain disaster: he calls a play on First and Ten and it's a handoff of the vice-presidential spot on the Democratic national ticket to Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut. Now those watching this game unfold have to ponder whether or not there was a mishandling of the ball during the handoff. I, for one, think not: that this is NOT the big fumble the GOP was hoping for right off the bat.

First of all, let me say- for the record- that I do NOT pay attention to the polls; neither do the candidates themselves (or so they say!)- Governor Bush himself said, of the two-digit percentage point lead the Bush/Cheney ticket held over Gore the other day: "the bad news is that the Election isn't held tomorrow". Taking them at their word, I'm not going to pay attention to them either- saving any "numbers crunching" for Election Day itself, now less than three months away. But I WILL refer to them, if only to illustrate a point: there was a low two-digit lead for Bush going into the GOP Convention, it was nearly doubled coming out of that Convention four days later and the Republicans were ecstatic; four days after that- with the choice of Senator Lieberman as Gore's running mate- that lead is now down to low single digits and it is the Democrats' turn to be ecstatic. I would say to all of you reading this- whether Bush supporters or Gore supporters or neither- GET A GRIP! These numbers are all meaningless and tell neither side nothing except what I already wrote four days earlier when the polls were much different:

Al Gore now had the better part of a fortnight to show himself a leader in defiance of all that the Texas Governor had said about him.

Now the time frame is the better part of ten days and that last quote from myself has not been changed one bit: Joe Lieberman or no Joe Lieberman!

Secondly, let me also say- for the record- that one can predict that one of two sure things when it comes to Vice-Presidential Selection politics will, in fact, take place:

a.) the opposition will score the presidential nominee for choosing a running mate much like himself; OR

b.) the opposition will score the presidential nominee for choosing a running mate who differs from his own positions on many issues.

The very predictability that either one of these two complaints will be heard is, in and of itself, proof of the false logic behind these complaints. Democrats jumped on Governor Bush for Dick Cheney's being too like Bush himself and that was hogwash; likewise, Republicans have now jumped all over Vice President Gore for choosing- in Joe Lieberman- someone with whom he differs on a number of key issues, which is also just as much hogwash. Either the ticket is not balanced enough or it is too balanced: but this is very like complaining that the time is either A.M. or P.M. Putting aside the fact that a political observer should not worry about what one already committed to the opposition might say about a given running mate (it is the opinion of those who have not yet chosen their champion which is the more telling!)

For the Vice-President, Joe Lieberman is, like Cheney was for Bush, a safe choice- but not, again like the former Defense Secretary, an at all decisive one. Just as no one should have drawn lessons about the Texas Governor's decisiveNESS from his decision to have Dick Cheney as his running mate, no one should be making Al Gore's choice of the Connecticut Senator out to be more than it really is- simply an attempt to unite potentially fractious elements within the Party, a strategem by which to try and seize the Center which must be won in order to win the General Election (and ultimately govern should the ticket be victorious) and an attempt to refute- at least to some extent- that which the opposition might say about the presidential nominee himself.

Bush chose Cheney because he is palatable to the Right of the GOP- even though Cheney is, by no means, a "Hard Rightist"; in addition, he will help defuse (but will not be able to end) talk of Bush being a lightweight in the ways of Washington and Foreign Affairs just by being there and he is attractive to those in the Center who feel that Bill Clinton- whom many of them supported in the past- had abandoned them. Gore chose Lieberman because he was palatable to the Left of the Democratic Party- even though Lieberman is a so-called "New Democrat" and, therefore, certainly not Left-friendly; in addition, he will help defuse (but will not be able to end) talk of Gore being still largely under the thumb of scandalous Bill Clinton (Lieberman having been the first Democrat to publicly chide the President on moral grounds re: the Monica Lewinsky scandal) and he is attractive to those in the Center who are still loyal to Bill Clinton.

The only significant difference between what Dick Cheney does for George W. Bush and what Joe Lieberman does for Al Gore is that, unlike Cheney, Lieberman is NOT an innocuous choice. Unfortunately, we still- in the first four-digit year beginning with the numeral "2"- have to address this fact. If we lived in a perfect America, Senator Lieberman's religious beliefs would have no bearing whatsoever on the outcome of the presidential race- either positive or negative: while we would certainly acknowledge that the Democratic Vice-Presidential nominee-presumptive was an Orthodox Jew, this fact would- while recognized as certainly a most important part of his own life personally- be just another line in his bio to the rest of us. But it isn't: precisely because we do not yet live in a perfect America. So, just how does Joe Lieberman's position as the first Jew to appear on a major Party national ticket play here?

A Jewish acquaintance of mine called me earlier this very day, concerned about the potential negative impact the Connecticut Senator will have on Gore's presidential aspirations. "It's the 'kiss of death' ", she told me. She then cited States where she, a New Yorker, felt an anti-Jewish backlash might possibly hurt Gore, but I myself can't see where the anti-Semitism she so strongly fears figures into the Electoral Vote map in such a way that it actually DOES hurt Gore! Those of you reading this, click on- for example: and tell me how many of THOSE 135 Electoral Votes would easily go for Gore come November- answer: not many! Assuming, for the moment, the fact that Senator Lieberman is Jewish takes- say- as much as 8% of the vote (just to throw out a random number only for the sake of the argument) away from Gore in any one of these States, what does this really mean? That Gore only gets-say- 36% of the vote instead of 44%! The Vice President doesn't then lose the State BECAUSE of Senator Lieberman: he would have lost the State- and its Electoral Votes- anyway!

In the meantime, of those at only Florida seems competitive in this Election, but it would have been competitive anyway- with or without a Jew on the ticket. The Jewish "snowbird" vote in the Sunshine State is not anywhere near as decisive a factor as it once was a generation or more ago: the Hispanic vote courted so openly at the Republican National Convention is, today, much more of a factor- but Florida is not a State the new Gore/Lieberman will so easily concede; however, it never was! Meanwhile, how many of the 38 Electoral Votes at is Gore going to LOSE because of the Connecticut Senator? How many of the 69 Electoral Votes at will the Vice President fail to pick up?? Worst case scenario for the Democrats: a relative handful... maybe!

So, in the end, we are actually left where we were BEFORE Al Gore even announced his choice of a running mate- with Gore having a strong base of some 100 Electoral Votes (give or take) as over against some 150 (give or take) for the Bush/Cheney ticket and the Vice President left still having to "pick off" as many of the States at and as he can- particularly the larger ones (the Connecticuts and the New Jerseys; the Pennsylvanias, Ohios and Marylands; Michigan, Illinois, Missouri... battling Governor Bush all the way out to California)- come the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. And, in these States, Joseph Lieberman is a double-edged sword for those who would- either way- exploit his religion for political gain: if, indeed, his religion is an issue to a healthy minority in most of these States who cannot stomach a Jew running for such high office and being- should Al Gore win the Presidency- a single heartbeat away from the Oval Office, there is also- in these same States- a healthy minority to whom the fact that the Connecticut Senator is Jewish will be largely reason enough to vote FOR a Gore/Lieberman ticket. No... the battle for these swing States is going to have to be fought on other ground!

But, aside from so parsing the Electoral Vote mosaic as I have just now, the fact remains that the vast majority of anti-Semites are generally more conservative than the national "bell-curve": how many of these were going to vote for Al Gore anyway, regardless of WHO was on his ticket? More likely, the play for the so-called "Jewish Vote" by the Republicans in some of their presentations at their National Convention so recently concluded, is rather more diluted today than it was at that gathering.

In the end, however, very few really vote for VICE-President. Those who have not already made up their minds before they even knew who the major Party running mates were going to be might take cognizance of who the running mate is and may even weigh them in making their decision regarding whom to vote for come November- but it is, for the vast majority of voters, not anywhere near the primary factor. If the prospective V.P.'s were so important to the determination of the final outcome of the ensuing Presidential Election- even a close one- we would have been wondering, as 1992 approached more than eight years ago, just how WOULD President Dukakis be handling his re-election bid! But we weren't: a clear lesson to all those who would place too much weight on the impact of the running mate.

To have a chance to win- and, more importantly, not outright blow away all chances to win- this Election, Al Gore still has to control HIS Convention next week and must use it wisely in order to put the kabosh on all that was said about HIS Politics and policy proposals- along with his connections to Bill Clinton- by the Republicans last week. Joe Lieberman is not a cure-all to what Al Gore has yet to cure nor, at the same time, a "kiss of death" to what the Vice President yet hopes to achieve. Neither Dick Cheney OR Joe Lieberman are, by any means, "home runs" for their respective tickets: they are certainly not men who fairly drip charisma and, therefore, run the risk of taking the spotlight away from the two men who head those tickets. This election will, in the main, be a battle between two competing visions of the "Baby Boom"ers' potential legacy- as aforesaid in a previous Commentary: visions set by the two major party PRESIDENTIAL nominees. That is as it should be: the historic moment of the first Jew to be chosen for a major Party national ticket will be neither a benefit nor a detriment to the respective courses taken by Governor Bush and Vice-President Gore in the upcoming Fall Campaign.

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