Sen. Joseph Lieberman, the first Jew on a major-party ticket, accepted his historic Democratic nomination for vice president Wednesday night and skewered the Republicans as all talk and no action. Shedding his reputation for bipartisan conciliation, Lieberman said: “We Democrats will expand the prosperity. They will squander it.”
Lieberman’s derisive needling of Republican nominees George W. Bush and Dick Cheney set the stage for Al Gore’s nomination for president, which was assured shortly before midnight ET, when Florida put him over the top, and became official when the traditional roll call of the states ended at 12:36 a.m.
Lieberman accused the Republican ticket of talking a good game but failing to follow through. Ebulliently taking on the vice presidential nominee’s traditional responsibility to carry his party’s attack to the opposition, he intoned with mock sorrow, “I’m glad the GOP has changed their rhetoric, but I wish they would also change their policies.”
Lieberman showed delegates his amiable side. “Our opponents are decent, and they are likable men,” he said. “I am proud to call many in their party my friends.”
But then he launched this broadside: “But America must understand: There are very real differences between us in this election.”
Tweaking Bush and Cheney by quoting one of their own, Lieberman said, “As John McCain might say, let me do some straight talking right now.”
Seizing on a key Republican issue to illustrate what he painted as the GOP’s hypocrisy, he added: “And you know, I think it’s a good thing that our opponent talks about education. ... But I’m sad to say their plan just doesn’t provide the resources our schools need to meet those high standards.
“You know, sometimes it seems to me their idea of school modernization means buying a new calendar for every school building.”
Lieberman’s biggest response came when he told the delegates: “Two weeks ago, our Republican friends tried to walk and talk a lot like us. Did you notice?
“But let’s be honest about this — we may be near Hollywood, but not since Tom Hanks won an Oscar has there been that much acting in Philadelphia.”
A historic evening
Lieberman, 58, the junior senator from Connecticut, thanked Gore for his “courage” in launching him on a “miraculous journey,” breaking with 212 years of American history by choosing a Jewish running mate.
Lieberman has largely been embraced by Christian leaders and congregations for the devoutness of his Orthodox beliefs, and Wednesday night he acknowledged the warmth of his welcome as he stepped over a historic barrier in American politics. “I don’t have to tell you this has been an extraordinary week for my family and me,” he said.
“As every faith teaches us — and as presidents from Lincoln to Roosevelt to Reagan to Clinton have reminded us — we must, as Americans, try to see our nation not just through our own eyes but through the eyes of others. In my life, I have seen the goodness of this country through many sets of eyes.”
Meet Joe Lieberman
But Lieberman’s overriding task Wednesday night was to tell American voters who he is, something he has had plenty of practice at while explaining himself to intrigued but sometimes skeptical Democratic activist groups the last two weeks.
This is who Joseph Isadore Lieberman is: an Orthodox Jew who has steadfastly honored his religion while thriving in an overwhelmingly Christian political world, a centrist often at odds with his own party’s core policies, an early and sharp critic of the president at a convention deeply in love with Bill Clinton, and a lawmaker skilled at reaching across party lines cast in a political role that demands sustained attacks on the opposition.
Wednesday night, Lieberman continued his personal campaign to reassure traditional Democrats that he really is one of them. Recalling his kiss-and-make-up meeting Tuesday with the Congressional Black Caucus, Lieberman repeated his commitment to affirmative action, which Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., and other African-American leaders had been strenuously questioning since he was named to the ticket a week and a half ago.
“I believe that the time has come to tear down the remaining walls of discrimination in this nation based on race, gender, nationality or sexual orientation,” Lieberman said to cheers. “And that’s why I continue to say, when it comes to affirmative action, mend it, but please don’t end it.”
Defending the Democrats
Lieberman has also been at odds with another important Democratic constituency, the entertainment industry. Speaking in the engine room of America’s dream factory, the senator chose not to directly renew his cultural attack on the movie and music industries, instead reminding delegates of the similar observations made by Gore and his wife, Tipper.
“Long before it became popular, Al and Tipper led a crusade to renew the moral center of this nation, to call America to live by its highest ideals.
“He knows that in many Americans, there is a swelling sense that our standards of decency and civility have eroded. No parent should be forced to compete with popular culture to raise their children.”
And the first Democratic senator to denounce Clinton’s behavior in the Monica Lewinsky scandal took a moment to praise the president’s record:
“Our Republican friends ... [are] fond of dismissing the extraordinary achievements of the past eight years. But at the end of the day, the people I talk with tell me that their lives are a lot better than they were eight years ago.”
Lieberman sought to turn Republican economic attacks back on Bush and Cheney, answering Cheney’s question of two weeks ago — which party is better prepared to capitalize on the booming economy? — with this reply: the Democrats, specifically Gore and Lieberman.
“Under their plan, the middle class gets a little and the wealthy get an awful lot,” he said. “As a matter of fact, their tax plan operates under that old theory that the best way to feed the birds is to give more oats to the horse.
“We see the surplus through a different set of eyes ... the eyes of working middle-class families. ... My friends, it’s this simple — we Democrats will expand the prosperity. They will squander it.”
Like Gore, Lieberman is a sober-minded politician often accused of a lack of charisma. But in contrast to some of the vice president’s speeches, Lieberman did not try to artificially pep up his address Wednesday night with shouted slogans or exaggerated gestures. Instead, he adopted an avuncular, friendly manner, a manner that friends and admirers say is a true reflection of his nature.
In consequence, his speech here was interrupted barely 20 times by applause, far fewer times than were those of many previous speakers at this convention. Instead, he had to pause just as many times for laughter sparked by his gentle humor, often aimed at himself, and his barbs at the Republicans.
With razor-sharp timing, Lieberman opened with a one-liner: “There’s an old saying that behind every successful man ...
“... there is a surprised mother-in-law.”
Gore hits town
Introduced by his wife, Hadassah, as “my Joey,” Lieberman took the podium shortly after 10 p.m. ET, before the ritual roll call of states ratifying Gore’s presidential nomination. Before the votes could be cast, however, the convention erupted in cheers as the vice president made an unscheduled visit to the convention podium, where he hugged his daughter Karenna Gore Schiff, who had just seconded his nomination. Continuing a tradition Clinton started eight years ago, Gore waved to the crowd but made no remarks.
Still working on his acceptance speech, Gore arrived earlier Wednesday in California in his new role as Democrat-in-chief. The vice president promised supporters that his acceptance speech Thursday night would be chock-full of substantive policy initiatives that would bring “positive change to the United States of America.”
Gore bounded down the steps of Air Force Two at Burbank Airport at 3:30 p.m. ET to an animated greeting from his family, Lieberman and other Democratic officials. After a rally at the airport, the Democratic ticket headed off for a party for delegates from their home states, Tennessee and Connecticut, on the set of the popular television series “The West Wing” — which features a faithful reproduction of the Oval Office.
At the airport rally, Gore immediately took a swipe at the Republicans’ convention two weeks ago, dismissing it as a policy-free stage show.
“I believe you deserve to know exactly what the candidates are going to do so you can make an informed judgment. I’m gonna tell you,” he promised.
The issues Gore will highlight in his own speech Thursday night have been clear for days, and on arrival in Los Angeles he acknowledged that the pressure is squarely on his own shoulders. “This is a speech I have written,” he said. “I will deserve the credit or the blame. I’ve been rewriting and editing and tweaking.
“I hope that those who watch and listen will feel afterward that they have a clearer idea of exactly what I’m proposing to do. They’ll also know how the ideas and proposals I’m making are rooted in the experiences that I’ve had.”
Selling the ticket
Gore’s arrival Wednesday marked the formal transfer of Democratic leadership from Clinton to his deputy of the last eight years, culminating a process that hit high gear Tuesday night when the convention got down to the business of selling its new ticket to American voters.
In an emotional look back 40 years to John F. Kennedy’s presidential nomination here in 1960, four members of the late president’s family anointed Gore as the true heir to Kennedy’s New Frontier.
In what has become a tradition at these conventions, the party’s most dynamic spokesman, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, inspired delegates into a fervent chant: “More with Gore!”
And Gore’s bitter primary rival, former Sen. Bill Bradley, embraced Gore’s nomination by declaring in the first line of his address: “Let me get right to the point — we’re all here to elect the next president of the United States, Al Gore.”