Lieberman kicks off his campaign

Posted: Aug 17, 2000 12:00 AM
STAMFORD, Conn. -- The Democratic campaign featuring the vice presidential nominee kicked off on Wednesday, a shout of joy for the candidate who, in the words of The Stamford Advocate, was "WELCOME HOME." Joseph Lieberman was raised here in Stamford. In such matters speaker Al Gore was fully briefed, giving to the crowd of 1,000 not only the name of the preparatory school Lieberman had attended, but the news that it no longer existed, an intimacy of biographical detail done with such informal fluency as might have passed over the datum that FDR no longer existed.

It was a real hometown rally, and Senator Lieberman mentioned that he had frequently spoken at the same hall, the Italian Center, welcoming this or that candidate or event. But this time there were nine television cameras documenting everything done and said, including the remarks of 14 ("You are witnessing the longest warm-up act in the history of politics" said Attorney General Richard Blumenthal) introductory speakers. They included senior U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd; the mayor of Stamford Dan Malloy ("For 12 years, Presidents Reagan and Bush sought to make the rich richer"); and a representative of the AFL-CIO ("George Bush not only should not become the next president, he should be run out of the State of Texas").

The assembly was bursting with pride at the accomplishment of this suburban city, about which a historian a few years ago recorded that the most exciting thing that had ever happened to it was that George Washington had had breakfast here ("Good. But not as good as Greenwich," the Founding Father noted in his journal). The enthusiasm for what Stamford had wrought sometimes got in the way of the narrative being celebrated. At first, it focused on Lieberman's Jewishness ("In Connecticut we had the first Jewish senator -- Abe Ribicoff; the first woman governor -- Ella Grasso; and now the first vice president!") Toward the end of the two-hour affair, enthusiasts were entitled to wonder whether the primary reason for naming Joe Lieberman was that he was Jewish, or that he was from Stamford.

One speaker exultantly noted that the nomination of Senator Lieberman had resulted in a 16-point change in the election polls. Up until Monday, Bush had been rated toweringly advanced over Gore. After Monday, the polls (the Quinnipiac University poll) showed Gore slightly ahead of Bush.

This datum had a confusing effect. If the Gore candidacy so heavily needed Joe Lieberman on the ticket, what was the explanation for it? Vice President Gore spoke beamingly of his choice and of the prospects for the ticket ("We will make history together"), causing some to wonder: Why was Gore so behind in public esteem? He has been eight years as a very conspicuous vice president and yet was trailing badly. Why were his fortunes reversed by naming an obscure senator as vice president?

Because Lieberman is Jewish? Joseph Lieberman is many things, besides being Jewish. He is enormously talented as a human being and as a friend ("There are a thousand people here, each one of them could give you an example of Joe Lieberman's goodness and generosity," including this observer). The unwelcome hypothesis was being implicitly urged that the reason Gore/Lieberman would now proceed to win the election was because Joe Lieberman is Jewish. In a calm, tolerant society one wouldn't want a ticket to succeed because one of its members was Jewish, Catholic or black.

On the other hand, at political rallies, distinctions do not capture the tabloid's eye. Instead one revels in the animal political spirits, even as, in capitalist societies, the animal spirit, singled out by Lord Keynes, accounts for much economic activity.

Mr. Gore was in fine shape, his broad smile uninterrupted, his hand, when away from the podium, locked together with Tipper's. When the two candidates and their wives walked onstage, everyone kissed or hugged everyone else, which made one wonder: How many times did Tipper have to kiss Al in the eight hours they had spent together, beginning with the joint appearance that morning at Carthage, Tenn.?

But mostly they kissed the audience, and the audience kissed them back. "I saw a license plate yesterday that read, 'Illinois, the Home of Abraham Lincoln.' Soon Connecticut license plates will read, 'The Home of Joe Lieberman.'" It may prove a three-month round trip for Mr. Lieberman, Connecticut to Connecticut, but he is always welcome home.