By choosing Joseph Lieberman as his running mate, Al
Gore explicitly rejected the argument that the Democrats' future
lies in energizing those currently in the political margins. Instead,
the Gore forces are making overwrought appeals to swing voters who
occupy the hallowed ground of the imaginary middle.
Some strategists argue that the way to win in November
is to push bold policies that energize the apathetic majority. But
the cautious tacticians managing Gore's run are loathe to wander
too far from conventional wisdom. And the selection of Lieberman
is conventional wisdom personified. The two-term Connecticut senator
is the first Jewish candidate nominated for a major party ticket,
and that's an admirable development. What makes him truly attractive
to party leaders, however, is the way he publicly chastised President
Clinton for the Monica Lewinsky embarrassment. His celebrated rebuke
will serve to deflect Republican intimations that the Dems are spiritless
socialists at heart, while shielding Gore from GOP charges that
he deserves to share Clinton's shame. All the while, Gore can take
the credit for courageously choosing a Jewish running mate.
Yet selecting Lieberman also is beating a dead horse.
The Republicans clearly had decided that the impeachment episode
was a political liability when they banished all politicians with
any connection to that partisan lynch mob from the convention podium.
By naming Lieberman, the Democrats lend credence to an angle of
attack already abandoned by the GOP.
The sanctimonious Connecticut senator also is something
of a culture warrior, who has joined forces with public scold William
Bennett to launch rhetorical broadsides on the entertainment industry.
Surely the pop culture industry deserves serious critique, and Lieberman's
outrage sometimes echoes that of many progressives. But the tone
of his indictments, and his choice of allies, encourages the kind
of censorious attitudes common to right-wingers everywhere.
His divine name-dropping - Maureen Dowd wrote in the
New York Times that Lieberman said God 13 times in 90 seconds during
a speech in Nashville - may have been calculated to demonstrate
that his Supreme Being was the very same deity that Christians hold
near and dear. But it also furthered the fudging of secular and
sacred that is becoming all too common in our public discourse.
Shouldn't we be troubled by this trend? Separation of church and
state is not just an abstract notion; it's a necessary safeguard
in a society that harbors a wide variety of belief systems. One
of the most insistent lessons of history is how easily violent social
divisions are fueled by religious antagonisms.
But most troubling is Lieberman's role, along with
Clinton and Gore, in founding the Democratic Leadership Council.
Created specifically to fashion New Democrats out of old (read:
liberal) ones, the DLC has emerged as the party's vanguard. Their
chief argument is that old Democrats were at odds with he new realities
of post-industrial America and tended to alienate coveted swing
voters. The eight-year reign of their most celebrated alum might
seem to validate that notion. Indeed, the economic boom together
with declining crime, unemployment and teenage pregnancy lend credence
to the claims that New Democratic policies work.
But there is much in this country that is not working:
an incarceration epidemic, an insane drug war, corporate domination,
a growing economic divide, homelessness, child poverty, a health
care crisis, environmental degradation, and so forth. Discussion
of those issues was left to the "Shadow Conventions," organized
in both Philadelphia and Los Angeles by conservative-turned-liberal
columnist Arianna Huffington and religious leader Jim Wallis, among
others. Thousands also protested in the streets of the two cities,
demanding that those issues be addressed. Although the corporate
media has paid scant attention to those voices of dissent, they
are growing louder and more insistent. The choice of Lieberman as
veep will do little to still them.