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From owner-aanews@atheists.org Thu Aug 10 07:45:57 2000
Date: Wed, 9 Aug 2000 17:25:02 EDT
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subject: AANEWS for August 9, 2000

Media, political "churn" over Lieberman pick continues along with state-church questions

American Atheists, #800
9 August 2000

Al Gore has definitely gotten a "bounce" over his Republican opponents by naming Sen. Joseph Lieberman as his number two running mate in the November presidential election. At a rally earlier this week in Nashville, Tenn. Lieberman -- an Orthodox Jew whose position on state-church separation is raising concerns -- held forth his religious faith as a credential for public office, and delivered what may have been more of a spiritual oration than typical campaign speech. Lieberman talked freely about being moved by a "spirit" and added: "To give thanks to God and declare his name and make his actions known to the people. To be glad of spirit. To sing to God and to make music to God, and most of all, to give glory and gratitude to God from whom all blessings truly do flow."

You would think you had just entered a religious service," declared Kathleen Jamieson of the Annenberg School for Communication in Philadelphia.

Indeed, Lieberman's professed religiosity could end up being "problematic" says Jamieson, but it is part of a broader strategy. Democratic Party handlers, carrying on the strategic genius of Bill Clinton, are simply "triangulating" issues and stealing rhetorical thunder from the Republicans. Last year, while referring to the year 2000 race, a Gore policy advisor told reporters that the party "is going to take back God this time."

Lieberman is the perfect man for the job. He is a supporter of school vouchers, arch-virtuecrat of groups like Empower America which denounce violence and sex in the news media, and a key player in the growing "civil society" movement which would energize faith-based groups in administering public welfare projects.

While much of the news media is focusing on the fact that Lieberman happens to be Jewish -- and a Jew has never been on the ticket for Vice President -- there is growing scrutiny about his record on First Amendment issues.

"Whether or not he's Jewish is a personal decision and a bogus issue," said Ellen Johnson, President of American Atheists. "We don't care, and religious belief is a private matter. What does worry us is that Lieberman is using religiosity to woo voters, and he has a poor record on capitol hill regarding the separation of church and state."

"He's also a nightmare for civil libertarians," Johnson added. "We should worry when powerful people like Lieberman begin making judgments about what should and should not be allowed in the media, and then try to tell us that they're 'against censorship.' The record speaks otherwise."

Johnson was referring to Lieberman's involvement with other Empower America virtuecrats who for several years have been conducting a guerilla culture war against "moral pollution" -- everything from salacious musical lyrics to gratuitous violence on television and in the movies.

"If you don't like this kind of programming, all you have to do is shut it off or hit the remote," said Johnson. "I'm really skeptical of these reassurances that Empower America and its religious right allies do not advocate government censorship."

There are plenty of media developments over the Gore-Lieberman ticket, beginning with some pronounced differences between these two political heavies.

* "I'm not afraid to have somebody as my vice president who sometimes disagrees with me," Gore declared in interviews yesterday on three major network morning shows. Number two added, "If I'm lucky enough to be elected, that free exchange of ideas is going to continue in private ... But when President Gore decides, Vice President Lieberman will support him entirely." The Connecticut Senator claimed, "The Republicans have made much ado about what is little or in some cases nothing..."

Or have they? The Republican publicity machine has been broadcasting the steady message that Lieberman, with his political armor as a culture war crusader, has more in common with George W. Bush than the liberal Al Gore. Columnist Bill Murchison at TownHall, a conservative news outlet, said that in picking Lieberman, "Al Gore has a certified good guy."

"George Bush plus Dick Cheney plus Joe Lieberman equals a national political establishment that has come to believe, this election season, in the importance of ordinary morality," Murchison declared. In other words, even a liberal reprobate like Gore is supposedly facing the new political reality -- voters are supposedly clamoring for more "morality" in public office and the cultural equivalent of an Oklahoma land rush to bring religion back into the affairs of public life and government. During the ABC program "Good Morning America," for instance, Gore interrupted anchorman Jack Ford to portray himself as a "man of faith," just like Lieberman. Lieberman was busy declaring that religious faith has always informed the American experience dating back to the Revolution and "the hearts and minds of those who founded our country." Both Gore and Lieberman drew a parallel between having a Jew on the national Democratic ticket in 2000, and John Kennedy's 1960 nominationand election which broke the political barrier for Roman Catholics.

The comparisons linking Cheney and Lieberman come from mainstream pundits as well, including CNN's Stuart Rothenberger. He notes that "Like Cheney, Lieberman is a solid citizen with an impeccable reputation for integrity," and was not selected for the ticket on the basis of being a "pretty boy" or having some kind of sex appeal. (Christian Science Monitor sees the respective picks of Cheney and Lieberman as a return to political "wonkism," or nerdiness.) Lieberman is a DLC Democrat, a member of the Democratic Leadership Council that has steadily moved the party more to the political center. Lieberman projects a kind of religious gravitas; he is so much a man a man of faith that his strict observance of the Sabbath -- which has resulted in violent cultural war clashes in Israel between secularists and fundamentalists -- means that he will not campaign one day out of seven, and will also be taking off during the Jewish holidays in September and October as well. And more: in picking Lieberman, Gore is sacrificing a "past versus future" contrast that the Democrats pledged to use after Bush picked Cheney. Now, there are more similarities than differences, and striking a contrast may be difficult.

* Most telling was an exchange between Ford and Lieberman where the presumptive VP nominee was asked: "But do you think that if the Republicans had chosen a Christian conservative as a vice president, and that Christian conservative had given a speech where they also mentioned repeated (sic) God -- don't you think that members of the Democratic Party would be expressing some concern over the possible mingling of religion with politics?"

Lieberman quickly responded, "I don't think so, I certainly wouldn't have," and veered off on another panegyric to his religious faith.

Gore then felt compelled to jump into the exchange. "Jack, can I comment on that also?" Referring to the point eight years when he was asked by Bill Clinton to join the Democratic ticket, Gore added: "I went to the podium at the Smith County Courthouse and just spontaneously, because I was so moved by this transition in my life and the importance of the obligations that I was undertaking, I said, 'Hey, look, I don't know if anybody thinks this is appropriate or not, but I'm going to start with a prayer.' And I did."

* Points of agreement and disagreement between the two men abound. Lieberman supports vouchers, whereas Gore does not. Both advocate a robust program of "partnerships" between church and state, although Lieberman's would be more expansive -- more akin to the scheme put into action in Texas by Gov. George W. Bush -- than Gore. Both Gore and Lieberman, however, are pro-choice, a fact that has placed the Vice President firmly in the political target sights of groups like the National Right to Life Committee. On the other side of the issues divide, the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League notes that during his 12 years in the Senate, Lieberman cast 74 votes on legislative matters dealing with reproduction issues, and 72 of them were "pro-choice." Lieberman also voted against President Bush's nomination of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court in 1991; and he cosponsored the Freedom of Choice Act which would have codified the ROE v. WADE Supreme Court decision making abortion rights an explicit federal law.

* Gore's gambit to court a more conservative and religious voting block could estrange his campaign from its more traditional support base. Lieberman's crusade against popular media, for instance, has caused concerns in Hollywood. Now, the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights is calling the Democrat's bluff by demanding that Gore not appear at a fund raiser at the Playboy mansion scheduled for August 15.

"We are contacting all of our friends in the Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist communities to join us in our protest of the Playboy Mansion fund raiser," proclaimed William Donahue, President of the League. Highlighting the group's religious hypersensitivity -- and as if Playboy checks its religious calendar -- is the fact, noted Donahue, that August 15 is the Feast of the Assumption, "a holy day of obligation for Catholics."

* While Lieberman, Bennett and other culture warriors are directing their wrath at rap lyrics, naked flesh on celluloid and even the antics of the Jerry Springer Show -- Lieberman has denounced the program and others like it as "demeaning, exploitative, perverted, divisive or, at best, amoral" -- some icons of "outre" counter culture are fighting back. The New York Post notes today that radio shock-jock Howard Stern says that Lieberman is a "hypocrite" and potentially "dangerous," but like many admits that when November arrives, he will likely vote for the Gore ticket anyway.

On Tuesday morning, Stern orated, "This guy (Lieberman) is really bothering me because he's always badmouthing me, actually coming out in public saying I'm bad for America... It's such a cheap shot." Stern added, "It's like every liberal guy who wants to seem (sic) like a family values guy ... and wants to blame the media for the world's problems."

"I'm afraid of religious fanatics on either side," Stern continued, "whether you're Christian, Jew, Muslim, whatever. Anyone who's a religious fanatic is dangerous."

Sidekick DJ Robin Quivers then noted that Lieberman, a standard-bearer of moral probity, is divorced. "Doesn't the Torah say no to that"? Stern interrupted. "He knows I'm bad for the country, yet the Torah says divorce is bad.

Stern added that he would preferred to have seen N.Y. Gov. George Pataki or N.J. Governor Christie Whitman as a running mate for either major candidate.

For further information

(Archive of articles on election 2000)

(Special report on Joe Lieberman)

("Bush claims GOP nomination, pledges to mobilize churches, religious groups to address social ill," 8-6-00)

(Information on American Atheists' "Defending the Wall at Convention 2000" protest next Monday, August 14 in Los Angeles.)

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