Lieberman lives his American Dream
© St. Petersburg Times, published August 17, 2000
LOS ANGELES -- Gracefully blending his twin passions of politics and religion, Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut accepted his place in history Wednesday night and charmed the Democratic National Convention.
"Is America a great country or what?" asked the first Jewish American on a major national political ticket as he basked in adoring applause and frequent chants of "Joe! Joe! Joe!"
"As every faith teaches us, we must, as Americans, try to see our nation not just through our own eyes, but through the eyes of others," Lieberman said. "In my life I have seen the goodness of this country through many sets of eyes."
Setting the stage for Vice President Al Gore's nomination acceptance speech tonight, Lieberman embraced the Staples Center throng with a heartfelt address warmly wrapped in the themes of dignity, morality and family.
The vice presidential nominee tweaked the Republican Party, criticized Republican nominee George W. Bush's record as Texas governor and blasted Bush's proposed tax cuts and education initiatives. He repeatedly praised Gore's character -- and mentioned President Clinton just once.
Lieberman called Gore "a man of courage and conviction." He reminded the national television audience that Gore enlisted in the military during the Vietnam War and said the vice president stands for strong moral values.
"I've known Al Gore for 15 years," said Lieberman, who was elected to the Senate in 1988 and is 58. "I know his record, and I know his heart. I know him as a public servant, and I know what it is like to sit with him around the dining room table. We have discussed, sometimes even debated, policy issues. And we have shared private moments of prayer."
That was the only illusion Lieberman made to some of his policy differences with Gore.
For example, Lieberman supports experimenting with tuition vouchers and Gore opposes it. But Lieberman aimed his remarks on education at Republicans, who also agree with vouchers.
"Schools need to be held to the highest standards of performances and accountability," he said. "But I'm sad to say their plan does not provide the resources our schools need to meet those high standards. I've read their plan. To me, it seems like their idea of school modernization means buying a new calendar for every building."
Lieberman's strong religious beliefs and moral conscience have helped Gore distance himself from Clinton's scandal, and those qualities were emphasized time and again Wednesday night.
"For Joe," said Hadassah Lieberman, his wife, "family, faith, neighborhood, congregation and community are the guideposts of his life, orienting the choices he makes and the causes he champions."
But Lieberman's centrist views provoked some grumbling from some liberals and African-American Democrats.
Only after Lieberman reassured black caucus members Tuesday that he does not oppose affirmative action did California Rep. Maxine Waters, one of the House's most liberal members, renew her support for the ticket. He reminded listeners Wednesday night that he marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King in Washington and helped African-Americans register to vote in Mississippi in the early 1960s. He said he favors the "mend it, don't end it" approach to affirmative action.
"He cleared that up," said Felicia Harvey of Tampa, a Florida A&M University student who is president of the College Democrats of America.
Since Gore tabbed him as his running mate, Lieberman has provided the spark that had been missing for months from the Democratic presidential campaign. As the first Jewish American on a major national political ticket, his selection made Gore appear more courageous in the eyes of some voters and thrilled Jewish voters in particular.
Florida is no exception.
Lieberman, who is expected to visit South Florida soon, has energized Jewish Democrats throughout the state. The county party chairmen in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties are Jewish and longtime political activists.
In Broward, county party chairman Mitch Ceasar said, Democrats went from two calls a day from prospective volunteers to 50 after Lieberman's selection.
"This is like being part of the fabric of history," he said. "Regardless of your religion, creed or color, everyone has a chance."
Other Democrats also think that Lieberman will energize non-Jewish voters who are looking for a leader in Washington with a strong moral compass and heartfelt religious beliefs.
"Those individuals who are looking for someone with clear tenets of religious faith, even if they are of different faiths, will find that comforting," said Sen. Chuck Robb, D-Va. "It gives us a chance to compete for voters who might not otherwise be open to a Democrat's message."
Indeed, Lieberman used his nomination as vice president as evidence that the American dream is available to everyone.
He talked of the "New Frontier" envisioned in this same city 40 years ago in the nomination acceptance speech by John F. Kennedy, the first Catholic elected president. He talked of his grandmother walking to synagogue and being greeted by her Christian neighbors, and of his wife's family being saved by American soldiers who liberated the concentration camps during World War II.
"In my life I have tried to see this world through the eyes of those who have suffered discrimination," Lieberman said. "And that's why 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."
With his 85-year-old mother listening, he recounted how his late father lived in an orphanage, drove a bakery truck and raised a son who now is tearing down another wall.
"Sometimes I try to see this world as my dad saw it from that bakery truck," said Lieberman, the first person in his family to graduate from college. "Right about this time of day, he'd be getting ready for the all-night run. I know that somewhere in America right now, there is another father loading a bakery truck, or a young woman programming a computer, or a parent dreaming of a better future for their father or their son. My friends, if we keep the faith, then 40 years from now one of their children will stand before a gathering like this, with a chance to serve and lead this country that we love so dearly."
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