- The Washington Times - Monday, August 21, 2000

LOS ANGELES.There was something almost kosher about the Democratic convention here even before Joe Lieberman stood up to accept the nomination for vice president. Even a Presbyterian could feel it.

American Jews are both optimists and pessimists, and sometimes at the same time. So are all the Democrats about their chances in November.

Jewish holidays are characterized by fasting and feasting, hope and despair. In his 1968 book, "The American Jews: Portrait of a Split Personality," James Yaffe writes that the American Jew is best understood as driven by "optimistic pessimism" or "pessimistic optimism."

Welcome to Los Angeles.

The delegates in Los Angeles were "energized" by the rhetoric from the podium they kept telling themselves and each other how energized they felt but they were continuously dismayed by polls that showed Gore-Lieberman behind Bush-Cheney, sometimes by as much as double digits. Some of the early polling even gave the convention bounce to George W.

Unlike the Republicans in Philadelphia, the Democrats in Los Angeles never felt the buoyancy that accompanied four days of positive thinking which led them to believe they were on the winning side. The polls particularly depressed Democratic candidates for the House, who know their best hope for regaining the House is for Al Gore to win a house to call his own.

While the Republicans must dampen their high spirits lest it weaken them for a tough campaign, the Democrats have the harder task of getting up for a tough campaign. This attitude was both encouraged and exacerbated by the choice of Joe Lieberman as vice president.

The black delegates loved the image of Mr. Lieberman as a college student racing to Mississippi with the Freedom Riders and walking on the Mall with Martin Luther King, but they don't quite trust him when he echoes the Clinton administration on affirmative action: "Mend it, but please don't end it." What, exactly, does "mend" actually mean?

The liberals cheered his call to "tear down the remaining walls of discrimination based on race, gender and sexual orientation," but the civil libertarians heard repression in his call to tear down the machines of trash in television, film and music. Would that lead to censorship of creative speech? This conflict and defensiveness were apparent at a panel discussion in Santa Monica, starkly called "Hollywood vs. Washington."

Jack Valenti, head of the Motion Picture Association of America, scolded Mr. Lieberman for being naive about the way Hollywood works. "The ultimate arbiters here are the audience," he said. "If people did not go see violent movies, then Hollywood would not make them."

That's a tricky proposition for Democrats. Consider the corollary: If the Playboy mansion didn't appeal to prurient fat cats, Loretta Sanchez wouldn't have scheduled a fund-raiser there.

Among the uneasiest of Lieberman skeptics are the teachers who savor their union power and fear that Mr. Lieberman may discipline them as Moses disciplined the Jews when he came down from Mount Sinai, treating them to a little "tough love" for worshipping the golden calf. The teachers grooved on his attack on Republicans for their advocacy of education reform, but not on his call for the higher standards of performance and more accountability, which they took (correctly) as criticism of them for their part in the deterioration of the public schools, and as a wedge to force experiments with vouchers for private (including parochial) schools.

The trial lawyers, many of whom are Jewish, are particularly upset at the choice of Mr. Lieberman because he urges limits on personal injury awards which have ballooned beyond outrageous to ridiculous, but the lawyers are not talking much because they have nowhere else to go. George W. as governor of Texas is hated by trial lawyers in Texas because he encourages tort reform, too.

"The Jew is an idealist, but he is also a materialist," writes Mr. Yaffe. "He believes in spiritual things, in the unknowable and the ineffable, in sacred values that come from God but he also believes that you have to be practical in this world. Man must reach for the stars, but while doing so must take precautions, so that he doesn't fall flat on his face."

That's how Mr. Lieberman introduced himself to the Democrats in Los Angeles. But suspicion, not necessarily based on his being a Jew, remains.

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