A couple of weeks ago in this space, I opined that the choice of Dick Cheney as the Republican vice-presidential candidate said a lot in George W. Bush's favor. That same commendation is due to Vice President Al Gore for picking Sen. Joseph Lieberman to be his Democratic running mate.
Speaking as an American citizen, I believe Joe Lieberman would make a great vice president should Gore be elected president. He is well-suited to the job because he best satisfies the only pertinent consideration that voters take into account about the vice-presidential candidate when they go into the voting booth: Is he qualified and well suited to replace the incumbent if something happens to the president?
Lieberman has the character, the courage, the intellect and the political acumen to succeed Gore to the presidency were it ever necessary. And what a great event for our country, the Democratic Party choosing a man of deep religious faith, the first Jew ever, to run on a national political ticket. Congratulations to Al Gore for having the courage to do it.
Speaking as a self-styled "truth teller," though, I'm not so sure politically Lieberman was the vice president's best pick to succeed him. Take it from a former vice-presidential candidate, what propels voters away from their daily routine and into the voting booth is a desire to elect and/or to prevent the election of the candidates at the top of the ticket. That said, a vice-presidential candidate can make a significant difference in the outcome of the election by motivating party activists and interest groups that otherwise may not be overly enthused by the top of the ticket to go out and vote.
The problem with Lieberman playing this role is that many of his past policy positions as a senator and chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council resemble those of the New Republican Party under the leadership of Bush, Cheney and Colin Powell more than those of Gore and Bill Clinton. Joe always looked more comfortable standing next to Bill Bennett taking on Hollywood's culture of mediocrity and schlock or standing with Jack Kemp and Florida Sen. Connie Mack promoting free-enterprise solutions to create economic opportunity and jobs in America's inner cities.
Lieberman supported school choice and was one of only three Democratic senators to vote for school vouchers. He voted to support President Bush's capital gains tax cut while Gore voted against it. He is a co-sponsor of a bill to eliminate the capital gains tax in the District of Columbia and to create a city-wide enterprise zone in our nation's capital. He's even been for saving Social Security with personal retirement accounts. On foreign affairs and national security policy, he is more like the late, great Sen. Scoop Jackson of Washington than Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
How could a man who takes positions so anathema to the hard-left core of the Democratic Party conceivably help turn out the base to vote for Gore? If anything, these positions are more likely to turn off the vote and leave left-wing ideologues sitting at home on their hands come Election Day.
If Lieberman's past record can be expected to turn off some of the Democratic base, is it really conceivable to think that for every left-winger his presence on the ticket turns off he will draw away more than one "Rockefeller-Republican" vote from Bush? Not really, given his support of world governance through international agreements such as the Kyoto global-warming treaty, his opposition to repealing the estate tax, his refusal to support an elimination of the tax penalty on marriage and his recent change of mind on saving Social Security through personal retirement accounts.
The way Lieberman's presence on the Democratic ticket will help Gore at the polls is if he repudiates his past positions, quits associating with his old pals and starts sounding the trumpet of wealth redistribution. That would be a shame, but already I see evidence of his being tempted to transform himself into Gore's "good twin."
Before he even received the official telephone call from Gore asking him to run for the second slot on the ticket, he had received his Gore-campaign talking points and was beginning to spout the tired old liberal accusations. Usually a most reasoned and articulate fellow, the prose of class warfare seemed sour in his mouth.
The next thing you knew, there was circulating an unpublished op-ed by Lieberman explaining his "private journey away" from personal retirement accounts written at the behest of the Gore campaign. Earlier, as chairman of the DLC, Lieberman supported the idea of personal retirement accounts. Now, to paraphrase Bush, VP-candidate Lieberman is characterizing the idea as a "risky empowerment scheme."
I know the excitement that being chosen for this honor induces. I know the temptation it raises. I can only hope that my good friend Joe Lieberman, the "conscience of the Senate," listens to his own conscience during the next three months so that when he returns to the Senate we can all congratulate him for a job well done, with his soul still intact.