Morality, politics, and Joe Lieberman

Posted: Aug 09, 2000 12:00 AM
In Senator Joe Lieberman, Democratic nominee presumptive for vice president, Al Gore has a certified good guy. Good guys, in national politics, don't come a dime a carload. Has Gore suddenly -- unpredictably -- transformed the election? Has he found eagle's wings? That's what we are likely to hear for just a bit. I believe I would tread lightly on that particular foot-feed. It's -- to say the least -- early for political prophets to be cruising the streets, bawling instant wisdom at every traffic light. But we might want to take this much of a stab at the matter: George Bush plus Dick Cheney plus Joe Lieberman equals a national political establishment that has come to believe, this election season, in the importance of ordinary morality. Al Gore? We might have to throw him into the equation just for selecting Lieberman, whether because of genuine admiration for his qualities or because of hard-headed calculation that such qualities will attract swing voters. We've got here Joseph Lieberman, Orthodox Jew; critic of pornography and of the Monica Follies ("immoral'' and "harmful,'' as he put it); pro-school choice. Not your conventional Democratic standard-bearer (albeit conventionally loath to impose his pro-life convictions on any woman). This was why Marshall Witttmann, of the notably conservative Heritage Foundation, and a Lieberman co-religionist, exuberantly argued that, by picking Lieberman, Gore had "undermined the fundamental argument that Bush was making in his convention speech,'' viz, "that we will restore integrity to the office.'' "I think this is just so historic,'' Wittmann gushed. Oh, now, come on, Marshall, time for a sedative. Running mates don't carry elections. Such heavy lifting is reserved for the men who would be president. The Lieberman nomination is instructive as pointing up Gore's presumable conviction that the natives are restless. As they are -- though you might not know it from the papers and talk shows. Most media types -- who wouldn't darken a church door save to cover a funeral -- don't understand ordinary people who express belief in standards, maybe even -- gasp -- in absolutes, such as truth and falsehood. The media regard such folk as yokels who on Sunday morning unaccountably rise and go to church, when they could be sipping coffee at Starbucks. As for believing in standards of behavior! Respecting unborn life! Fretting about language and lust on movie screens! Groan! My brothers and sisters in the media, many of them, had supposed everyone born in 1903 to be dead by now. Deep was their astonishment when some people -- generally born a long time after 1903 -- made a very big deal about a certain White House intern and her boss. Could it be that the capacity to acknowledge and respect moral standards is inborn? That the welfare state doesn't breed it out of you? We've been having this unresolved argument for a long time now in the West. Nothing new can be said to people who believe that behavior and "lifestyles'' are relative -- just a matter of personal preference -- or to those who say baloney to such a baseless contention. Some Republicans may be temporarily floored by the Lieberman gambit. They would do better to see it as a bow in their general direction -- an acknowledgment that the other party agrees with their viewpoint, or wants to be seen as agreeing. Morality matters. This is the essence of the thing. If morality had somehow ceased to matter in life -- including that sometimes deceitful species of life called politics -- why, Gore could have gone with virtually anyone else. He didn't. That's the story. To which this footnote should be appended: Anyone who believes that recovery of general regard for transcendent morality depends ultimately on the victory of one political ticket or the other has a shock in store when that ticket, duly elected, fails to implant in normal hearts the conviction that some things are unchangingly right and others unchangingly wrong. Politics can help, through example and the application of policies that show respect for -- sometimes undergird -- moral qualities. But the political calling is rarely instrumental in daily life. What is instrumental? For one thing, habits -- good ones. You know, like forswearing Starbucks on Sunday morning, driving with the family to church or (with appropriate regard for Joe Lieberman) synagogue.
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