The choice of Joe Lieberman of Connecticut as Al Gore’s running mate is so smart, so clever, so good, so satisfying, so striking that it just may turn this election a bit on its head for a while. Certainly its most immediate effect is going to be a successful Democratic convention next week in Los Angeles, because now the Democrats, badly hit by their own form of Clinton fatigue and acutely aware of the particular charmlessness of their presidential candidate, have something to cheer about. They respect Joe Lieberman. They think he has a center, a moral and ethical view of the world. He is experienced and articulate. He is decent and intelligent. He is independent. The media love him. He is a regular co-star on Imus, and all of the columnists and reporters for the elite newspapers, and all of the electronic pundits and anchors, know him and admire him.
But that is not what is most wonderful. What is most wonderful is that he is an Orthodox Jew. What does this mean? It means a lot of people who love America more than they love parties or politics are happy that a big and great breakthrough has occurred. A friend, a journalist who is politically conservative and Jewish, e-mailed me to tell me he had been weeping all morning, that he’d cried when he heard the news. Another friend, a producer at a TV news show, called and told me she woke her father in California to give him the news and they both got choked up. “This is like 1960,” she said, and I said I know, and I got choked up. It is wonderful when America is at her most American, and breaks down another barrier and says “What’s in your heart is most important.”
If Joe Lieberman had been Joe Lee, and an Episcopalian, Al Gore would have been smart to pick him. He would have been an obvious choice. The only reason he would have hesitated over Mr. Lieberman is that he’s Jewish. Mr. Gore decided that was just fine. I think that I have never seen Al Gore do such an elegant, intelligent and original thing. Well done, Mr. Gore.
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I have to tell you, this really does feel like a 1960 moment to me. I was a little girl when a Catholic got chosen to run for president, and I had gathered from the conversation of grownups that You Don’t Elect Catholics to the Presidency. When it happened, it’s hard to describe how exciting and moving and idealism-inspiring it was. It gave a lot of people a lot of joy. It opened things up more. That was a good thing. So is this.
And because this is such a good thing, I hope everyone of whatever politics or persuasion sits back for a few days and feels good about it. Everyone should be nice and not do any political bashing until . . . Friday.
However, I think it’s okay and maybe even helpful to note the following.
Network producers are going to decide, in their bright and touchingly uninformed minds, that the big opponents of the Lieberman choice will be Christian conservatives. That’s where they’ll go for the negative sound bites. But Christian conservatives love Joe Lieberman. They’ve been arm in arm with him in the great cultural battles of the past decade. He was just about the only Democrat who’d give them the time of day. He was on their side.
The last time I saw Mr. Lieberman was last spring, in New York, at a symposium on Hollywood and the culture. I moderated and introduced our guests—Joe Lieberman and Bill Bennett, who are close friends and co-warriors in the values battle. Lieberman and Bennett very frankly talked to the audience of producers and writers and network people and movie stars about how to make television and film and music more decent, more helpful. This is how people on the right think of and have experienced Mr. Lieberman—as a good guy with his head screwed on right.
Many conservative Christians—I think most conservative Christians—see all of those who love God as part of the same “cultural minority.” Conservative Christians don’t feel they have much in common, in terms of their political desires, with atheists and agnostics and leftist Episcopalian bishops and such. But they think they have a great deal in common with Orthodox Jews. They crowd around Rabbi Daniel Lapin when he speaks at a conservative gathering; they crowd around Dennis Prager, Michael Medved, David Horowitz and scores of others. One of the biggest heroes of conservative Christians is an Orthodox Jew called Dr. Laura; the last time I saw her she was wowing them at a born-again Christian assembly at the National Prayer Breakfast last February.
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A powerful and respected political officeholder told me Monday that there’s “no upside” to the Lieberman choice. I told him there’s no downside. He was surprised and said, “He can’t even campaign on Saturdays!” I said so what, America would love to see a politician who actually put God first one day a week.
I wish I’d added this: Remember Sandy Koufax? Joe Lieberman not campaigning on Saturday is Sandy Koufax not pitching on Yom Kippur. There were a lot of great sports moments in the 1950s and 1960s, but none greater than the day in 1959 when Mr. Koufax put God before the World Series. What a great guy, what a lesson for a generation of Christian and Jewish kids. And Muslims and everyone else too.
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Yes, it’s good news for Hillary. It’s great news for Hillary. It enlivens part of her New York base, it says to New York Jews that the Democrats are the party that did this great thing, it excites people—and may help them forget, or at least not remember so vividly, that the Democratic senatorial candidate has, shall we say, a not fully satisfying relationship with New York’s Jews. A historic choice like the Mr. Lieberman can overwhelm a lot of previous bad static.
But let’s not care about that for now. The headline is not “Is It Good for Hillary?” The headline is: “It Is Good for America.” It is a wonderful country that does something like this, that takes a good man who is a member of a small ethnic/religious minority to be one of its two major vice presidential candidates, and that greets that choice with resounding hurrahs.
This is really a great day. We should all be happy. We really are a maturing democracy.