- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 10, 2000

Al Gore's tactical decision to pick Joe Lieberman to be his running mate was a purely defensive political

move to blunt the Bush campaign's bid to turn this election into a referendum on Bill Clinton's disgraceful presidency.

George W. Bush and his running mate, Dick Cheney, sent that message to restore "honor and dignity" in the White House loud and clear at the Republican Convention in Philadelphia. It is a central, overriding theme of their campaign. And post-convention polls show it is working beyond the Bush campaign's wildest expectations, especially among swing voters.

With Mr. Bush running well ahead of Al Gore this week and leading by a stunning 25 percent among independent voters, the vice president was in a free fall. He had to do something bold. He had to gamble. Joe Lieberman, he thinks, is his emergency parachute.

The Bush-Cheney campaign wants to link Mr. Gore in the voters' minds with one of the most embarrassing chapters in America's presidency. And Joe Lieberman was the first Senate Democrat to lecture his party that what Mr. Clinton had done in the Monica Lewinsky scandal was "immoral" and harmful to the nation and that he had to be punished for it. In the end, however, Mr. Lieberman refused to vote to remove the president from office and even dropped his call for a vote of censure.

Mr. Gore's political rationale for picking Mr. Lieberman was in sharp contrast with Mr. Bush's criteria for choosing Mr. Cheney: That the former defense secretary and former White House chief of staff has the executive credentials to be president.

Mr. Gore, on the other hand, was choosing someone simply to shield himself from the Oval Office scandal that continues to reverberate in this year's presidential elections.

Then there is the Gore campaign's charade supported by the Washington news media that Mr. Lieberman is a centrist Democrat.

The two-term Connecticut senator, who heads up the centrist-leaning Democratic Leadership Council, does have a moderate voting record on some issues. He was willing to experiment with school choice vouchers that can be used to send kids to private schools. He was open to the idea of Social Security private investment accounts although yesterday he appeared to be backing away from these positions. He has supported capital gains tax cuts and a missile defense system and has voted for parental notification for minors seeking abortions. On affirmative action, he thinks "group preferences" are "inherently unfair." But these are all positions Mr. Gore opposes.

This puts the vice president in the hypocritical position of choosing a running mate with whom he disagrees on some fundamental issues, raising the issue of whether Al Gore believes in anything.

"The fact that Al Gore is willing to select a running mate whose positions he has attacked throughout this campaign will cause many to question Al Gore's commitment to the positions he takes," said Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer.

Clearly, Mr. Lieberman, on most domestic issues, is no conservative and is far from the center in his voting record. In the last Congress he rang up an 80 percent liberal voting record, according to the liberal Americans for Democratic Action.

"Lieberman's career score is 77 percent in our voting index, which is pretty liberal," ADA chief Amy Isaacs told me. "It's higher than Gore's."

Since when is an 80 percent or even 77 percent liberal voting record in the center? Congressional Quarterly says Mr. Lieberman supported Mr. Clinton on 90 percent of his votes over the past eight years. This is a centrist?

The National Taxpayers Union says Mr. Lieberman received a pro-taxpayer score of 8 percent in its annual rating of Congress that scored 144 votes having to do with taxes, spending, debt and regulation. In the last eight years, NTU has given him six "F" grades and two "D" grades for his votes. The American Conservative Union gave him a 16 percent score last year.

Still, the national news media is trumpeting Mr. Lieberman as a middle-of-the-roader. NBC's White House reporter Claire Shipman even calls him "a conservative." And Mr. Gore hopes Mr. Lieberman's less-liberal image will inoculate him from attacks that his own long-held liberal views on tax cuts and spending are outside the broad, right-of-center mainstream of the country.

In the aftermath of the Republican Convention and his well-received acceptance speech, Mr. Bush is beating Mr. Gore in every region of the country and crushing him among men, women, and especially the independent suburban swing voters that elected Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996.

Mr. Gore is betting Mr. Lieberman can help him win back these swing voters and also help him with Jewish voters in a handful of key states, especially Florida, where the race is tight.

But, for now, Al Gore is vulnerable to criticism that he picked Mr. Lieberman, with whom he disagrees on core issues, soley to give himself political cover from his close association with Mr. Clinton the man he said after the House impeachment vote was "one of our greatest presidents."

The Bush campaign theme to restore "honor and dignity" to the White House's Oval Office is clearly gaining traction among the voters who will decide this election, especially in the battleground states. In the end, it may be the most powerful issue in this campaign too powerful even for someone of Joe Lieberman's exemplary moral character to overcome.

Donald Lambro, chief political correspondent of The Washington Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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