- The Washington Times - Monday, August 14, 2000

The choice of Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman for vice president has met with positive reactions from Democrats and Republicans alike. He is acclaimed for his integrity, his honesty and his willingness to stand up for the traditional values of American culture against the excesses of Hollywood and the rest of the left. Which only makes me wonder why Mr. Gore picked him.

Don't get me wrong. The senator is a fine man, and he is a terrific pick for America. I just don't see how he is a good pick for the Democrats or how what he brings to the ticket outweighs the difficulties he causes. Here are three examples.

On Hollywood: Mr. Lieberman has partnered with Bill Bennett, among others, in attacking the culture of lasciviousness fostered by movie studios and teen television. Producers, writers, directors and stars provide millions of dollars to the Democrats. For them, Mr. Lieberman is a cultural warning shot, not a sigh of relief. With that kind of record, can Mr. Gore really expect them to remain enthusiastic givers to the fall campaign?

On Education: Mr. Lieberman has supported school vouchers, which are anathema to the National Education Association. Typically, more than half of Democrat convention delegates are NEA members. Will Mr. Lieberman capitulate to their pressure and change his position or will the NEA delegates stay silent? NEA member Gary Krane, a Los Angeles teacher, told the Associated Press, "I'm stunned [Gore] would make such a bad choice considering how much he's going to need to count on teachers for support." Mr. Krane is not alone. Bill Taxerman, a teacher for 25-years, says, "I find it a real strike against Gore. He stood up and swore to us he would never support vouchers and chooses a vice presidential running mate who's for it."

On Impeachment: Mr. Lieberman was the first (and only) Senate Democrat to rebuke Bill Clinton for his conduct during the Lewinsky affair. He voted to acquit, yet condemned the president's actions. Democrats are arguing that Mr. Lieberman gives silent Al Gore cover on this issue, taking the wind out of the Republicans sails. These same Democrats spent the last week saying that Bill Clinton isn't an issue. Why select a running mate who pushes the issue back into the foreground? Does Mr. Gore really want to spend the next three months explaining why he and his running mate had such different views on proper presidential behavior? I think the answer is no.

Mr. Gore does not have the support of a unified Democratic Party. Mr. Lieberman appeals to centrists, swing voters and suburbanites and hurts with the self-identified, activist, far-left wing of the party. That wing is the ideological and financial center of the party. Mr. Gore may have reached to the middle without being anchored on the left and may topple over as a result.

The noted "third way" liberal E.J. Dionne writes, "the Gore campaign wants to run a tough, class-oriented campaign against Republicans as the party of privilege. Lieberman mixes the message. He has won plaudits from the right for supporting capital gains tax cuts and for saying many nice things about Social Security privatization." These kinds of observations cannot be helpful to the ticket.

Mr. Gore wants to ease the fears voters have about the 35-year-long, progressively leftward drift of the Democrats. Mr. Lieberman, a centrist, can help change the party and Mr. Gore's image. Or, as is always the case, they could change him. Only time will tell how this will work out but we may already have an indication.

Last week, according to Mr. Dionne, the senator's office released copies of an op-ed he wrote indicating he was moving away from his previous support for privatization as part of the formula for Social Security reform. The unpublished piece, from June of this year, was written at the request of the Gore campaign.

Peter Roff is a political writer and strategist living in Alexandria.

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