- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 9, 2000

NASHVILLE, Tenn. Vice President Al Gore introduced his new running mate at a rousing rally here yesterday that was only a hymn and the sawdust trail short of a down-home Dixie revival meeting.
Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, the running mate, responded with remarks drenched with the religious fervor reminiscent of the so-called religious right, an unapologetic appeal rarely seen from Democratic candidates.
The senator, parading his Orthodox Jewish faith, offered first a prayer to God and then his gratitude to Mr. Gore.
"Dear Lord, maker of all miracles," Mr. Lieberman said to a sweltering audience in Nashville's downtown War Memorial Plaza, "I thank you for bringing me to this extraordinary moment in my life. And Al Gore, I thank you for making this miracle possible for me and breaking this barrier for the rest of America forever."
He hailed Mr. Gore for selecting "the first Jewish American to be honored to be a major party candidate for the vice presidency."
"Dear friends," he said, his voice taking on the resonance of the revivalist familiar to the region, "I am so full of gratitude at this moment. I ask you to allow me to let the spirit move me as it does, to remember the words from [the book of] Chronicles, which are to give thanks to God. To give thanks to God and declare His name and make His acts known to the people.
"To be glad of spirit, to sing to God and to make music to God, and most of all, to give glory and gratitude to God from whom all blessings truly do flow."
Some Democrats close to the campaign had fretted that voters might be uneasy with an Orthodox Jew being "a heartbeat away from the presidency," but early polls show the choice to be a popular one. The Gore campaign's initial relief has given way to euphoria as aides sense they can transform Mr. Lieberman's faith into an unassailable political trump card.
Mr. Lieberman's unabashed testimony recalled the controversy early this year over remarks by George W. Bush when, asked to name a thinker or philosopher who had most influenced him, replied: "Jesus Christ." Mr. Bush, a born-again Methodist who often speaks of his acceptance of Christ as his savior, was widely criticized by Democrats for injecting his religious faith into the presidential campaign.
Some Democrats worried yesterday that Mr. Lieberman's remarks might provoke similar criticism, but Republicans were wary of saying anything critical of them.
"Secular people may not react well to [Mr. Lieberman's remarks]," said John Green, a political scientist who studies evangelical Christians at the University of Akron in Ohio, "thinking that he was excessive, but many others may identify with this." However, he said, had Mr. Bush or his running mate, fellow Methodist Richard B. Cheney, made such a fervent religious statement "the adverse reaction may have been stronger."
Mr. Bush, in his first public comments since Mr. Lieberman's selection, avoided mentioning religion. Instead, he joined Mr. Lieberman in disagreeing with Mr. Gore on Social Security, missile defense and school vouchers.
"This election now presents the vice president with an interesting test of whether he will continue attacking positions his running mate shares, or whether he will lift up our nation by elevating the tone of this presidential campaign," Mr. Bush said.
Having suffered politically for years by playing a central role in the scandal-wracked Clinton administration, Mr. Gore appeared to revel in his new running mate's moralism. He described Mr. Lieberman, who up until this week was best known for denouncing President Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky, as "someone who shares my values."
"He believes, as I do, that the earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof," Mr. Gore said. "Joe and I come from different regions and different religious faiths, but we believe in a common set of ideals."
Hoping to reclaim the moral high ground after the Lewinsky scandal, Mr. Gore added: "And as I stand next to him today, I believe in my heart that we are one step closer to truly being one nation under God."
Mr. Lieberman returned the compliment by calling Mr. Gore an unwavering "servant of God Almighty." He said it took "chutzpah," the Yiddish word for brazenness, for Mr. Gore to choose him for what he called "the American dream team."
Both Mr. Gore and Mr. Lieberman likened the latter's presence on the Democratic ticket to John F. Kennedy becoming the first Roman Catholic president. Mr. Lieberman even compared his selection to the toppling of the color barrier.
In doing so, he invoked a conversation he had Monday with the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who once offended Jews by calling New York City "Hymietown." Mr. Lieberman recounted: "He said to me, 'You know, Joe, each time a barrier falls for one person, the doors of opportunity open wider for every other American.' "
Warming to the political merits of wearing one's religion on one's sleeve, the Gore-Lieberman team took pains to showcase Mr. Lieberman's wife, Hadassah, an Orthodox Jew whose parents are Holocaust survivors.
"Her mother is a survivor of Auschwitz and Dachau," said Mr. Gore's wife, Tipper. "Her father was in Nazi labor camps and organized an escape of Jewish men. And after the war was over, he helped organize and nurture Jewish orphans.
"Hadassah was born to this extraordinary couple in Czechoslovakia," Mrs. Gore added. "When she was 3 years old, her father took the family, escaped Stalin's repression, and immigrated to America."
Mrs. Lieberman did not squander her first appearance in the national spotlight.
"I am the daughter of survivors from the Holocaust, the most horrendous thing that happened," she said. "And here I am in the place that commemorates the American heroes, the soldiers who actually liberated my mother in Dachau and in Auschwitz."
She added: "Whether you and your family immigrated from Europe, Africa, Mexico, Latin America, or Asia, I am standing here for you," she shouted. "This country is our country … and anything is possible for us."
Mr. Lieberman's religion has eclipsed all other political ramifications of his presence on the Democratic ticket and touched off a national discourse on religion and politics. Democrats hope to make Mr. Lieberman's candidacy tantamount to a referendum on religious tolerance.
Democratic Party Chairman Joe Andrew insisted his party is not in danger of exploiting Mr. Lieberman's Judaism for political gain.
"It's a fact that he happens to be Jewish, but it's also a fact that he wasn't chosen because he was Jewish," Mr. Andrew told The Washington Times. "He was chosen because he's a great centrist leader of our party."
Gore spokesman Chris Lehane said the positive response to Mr. Lieberman's selection merely validates Mr. Gore's emphasis on job qualifications over religious background.
"So long as you make these decisions based on the right principles, all the other political considerations take care of themselves," Mr. Lehane told The Times.

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