When Gore chose Joseph Lieberman, many Democrats’ hearts sank, because he’s one of the weakest candidates possible. No national fame or celebrity, no votes brought to the table (New England will vote Democratic anyway), no tremendous wit or rapport with voters. It’s a weak defensive move; a reaction to Bush’s attacks on Clinton + his legacy, which lets Bush set the agenda + tone of Gore’s campaign. 70% of the country was against the relentless, almost pathological Republican 6 year pursuit of Clinton, culminating in the brutal Constitutionally damaging farce of Impeachment. This irresponsible Republican obsession with investigation, prosecution, and persecution was a powerful issue for the Democrats, especially when coupled with Bush’s huge prison population, rampant execution rate, and police state tendencies. Now with Lieberman’s elevation, Clinton’s primary Democratic critic, that issue is not going to be touched- replaced with the tacit admission that “yes, in fact, Bill was scum… and I had nothing to do with him”. It will constantly put Gore on the defensive on an issue that could have scored him major points, though he had nothing to do with Mr. Clinton’s personal sins, and no need to reply to them.
One can visualize Clinton writhing in discomfort as Lieberman’s “That was immoral!” speech was replayed ad infinitum, a defection that inspired Republican extremists to pursue Impeachment + Removal to it’s gory conclusion. And Mr. Clinton’s discomfort is not good for the Vice President; he is still Gore’s most persuasive and potent campaigner (the greatest fund-raiser in human history). It’s hard to imagine him pressing the flesh and or raising the bucks with the same enthusiasm and energy now that such a transparent attempt has been made to wall him off. Moreover, it’s hard to separate the Gore/Lieberman ticket from Clinton’s misdeeds without disavowing his accomplishments: balancing the budget, managing the economic boom, and stopping the carnage in Yugoslavia.
It puts the campaign into tiresome territory, where each side will constantly try to morally one-up the other with the depth of their beliefs. Gore, despite the blather of supposed campaign finance violations, is demonstrably one of the most decent + moral actors in American politics, and easily trumps ex-drunk Bush’s Johnnie come lately breast-beating religiosity. All this talk of character + integrity is empty propaganda: this is the same George Bush that waged a vicious campaign against Ann Richards, presided over the worst air quality + environmental violations in the country, refused millions in federal aid for poor children, and gave a blank check to every + any business in the state
The best choice would’ve been Senator Joe Biden: smart, funny, sharp, experienced; on 2-4 of the most important Senate Committees inc. Judiciary + Foreign Relations. He has the personality and public ease that Gore lacks, and was someone who could effortlessly become President if the need arose. Unfortunately, he wasn’t even in the running- among those that were, Bob Kerrey (Gov Nebraska) or Evan Bayh were probably the best.
Then there’s the religion issue: there’s no question that some won’t vote a Jewish Veep, no matter what their public protestations. But Lieberman isn’t just Jewish, but Orthodox: the obsessively strictly observing 10% who are resented for their control of public life in Israel. One doesn’t break molds by choosing a fringe member of a tiny minority. While there’s no doubt Lieberman’s selection is a good thing for America, if he’s perceived as leading to a bad loss, it might actually set back the cause of Jewish candidates. Geraldine Ferraro was an excellent candidate and person, but the female vote still went for Reagan by 12 points in ‘84, and there’s been little talk of any female Veep since. Worse, Mondale’s selection of her could’ve been considered a tacit admission that, since they were going to lose anyway, they might as well do the right thing + break new ground. The analogy is unfortunate.
Although the Convention parade of every Hispanic and Black in the Republican Party was so much puffery, Bush revealed himself to be a fearsome political animal, as natural in his skills in his own way as Clinton. It will take everything Gore has to win, starting with a chain of perfect decisions. This one wasn’t.
REFLECTION: Sept 2001- Lieberman was far better than I thought and obviously helped a lot in Florida, but the central thesis: that Gore would shun Clinton and their record- was correct, and the reason for his “loss”.