Al Gore chose Joe Lieberman to be his running mate because Lieberman is a prominent religious man -- perhaps the only religiously observant person in the Democratic party eligible for the vice presidency. By making this choice, as well as by going out of his way to demonstrate a manly attachment to his wife, Al Gore seems to be contradicting one of the cardinal principles the Democrats tirelessly reiterated during Impeachment Year. That principle said simply that personal conduct is irrelevant to public life. We care about Dow Jones, not Paula Jones, said a hundred apologists for the felonious president. A politician's private behavior, unless it impinges on public duties -- as alcoholism might -- is no business of the electorate's.
So, why did Gore spend four nights of the Democratic Convention touting his own and Lieberman's devotion to wife and family?
If the Democrats are hereby acknowledging their error on the subject of character, their conversion is welcome. They're having a tiny bit of trouble though with Lieberman's religiosity (The American Heritage Dictionary: "2. Excessive or affected piety").
At first, most Democrats celebrated Lieberman's call for greater attention to religious virtues in public life. Eleanor Brown, writing on the op-ed page of the New York Times, was delighted with what she sees as Lieberman's revival of the religious left to counteract the (presumably pernicious) influence of the religious right. And commentators from liberal publications greeted Sen. Lieberman's God-talk with generally fawning coverage. The reception for Governor Bush's Jesus talk was quite different. Moral: When a liberal talks religion, it's a revival of morality. When a conservative talks religion, it's the potential start of a new Inquisition.
But not every liberal was happy with Lieberman's religious references. Speaking to a black church, Lieberman called upon Americans to "reaffirm our faith and renew the dedication of our nation and ourselves to God and God's purpose." That was too much for Abraham Foxman, head of the Anti-Defamation League, a liberal Jewish group supposedly dedicated to exposing and eradicating anti-Semitism, but lately more likely to be found bashing conservative Christians for infield practice. He denounced Lieberman for suggesting that it is difficult to maintain morality without religion.
"To even suggest that one cannot be a moral person without being a religious person is an affront to many highly ethical citizens." Well, that's not exactly what Lieberman said. He was making a point about societies, not individuals. It was an argument best advanced by George Washington. In his farewell address, Washington said, "Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports . ... And let us, with caution, indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion."
But while Lieberman has taken some heat from liberals (Americans United for Separation of Church and State has also condemned him), his invocations of Judaism and God are puzzling to others.
Senator Lieberman voted against legislation to outlaw partial birth abortion. When asked how he squares this vote with his faith, he explained that Judaism permits each person to decide such questions for himself. Whoa. It's one thing to say: "Judaism sets high standards, and I don't always reach the goals." But to misrepresent the normative Jewish law on the question is, well, Clintonesque.
Lieberman is also justly renowned for having taken on Hollywood and the music industry for the savagery of the lyrics with which they pollute the airwaves. Yet, he now routinely invokes Gore when speaking of his past efforts to get the entertainment moguls to clean up their acts. More sleight of hand here?
Mrs. Gore did, long ago, found a group that pressured record companies to label their products. But in one of the more disreputable acts a loving husband could demand, Al dragged Tipper to Hollywood a few years ago, and had her publicly recant and admit that her efforts "sent the wrong signal." Gore, of course, needed Hollywood's money. After that obeisance, nothing more was heard from Tipper about vile lyrics.
Lieberman has demonstrated quite a talent for forgetting what he knew just weeks ago. As for how much influence Judaism has on his moral compass, one wag put it well: All yarmulke, no Torah.