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Lieberman Rallies Delegates

By David S. Broder, The Washington Post,
16 August 2000

LOS ANGELES, Aug. 16 -- The "new guard" leadership of the Democratic Party took command tonight, as Al Gore was formally nominated for president and his running mate, Connecticut Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, promised their administration would help all Americans "claim the limitless possibilities of their own God-given lives."

Gore surprised delegates by coming to the Staples Center podium to embrace his daughter Karenna Gore Schiff, whose emotional praise of "the most wonderful father in the whole world" set the stage for the ritual roll call of states that confirmed the right Gore had won in last winter's primaries to carry the party's banner in this November's fight for the White House.

In the highlight of the third night of the Democratic National Convention, Lieberman was, alternately, personal, passionate and funny as he aimed partisan arrows at the claims of Republicans to be real reformers, while raising pointed questions about George W. Bush's stewardship of Texas.

Ridiculing the moderate rhetoric and the displays of racial diversity at the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia two weeks ago, Lieberman said, "Not since Tom Hanks won an Oscar has there been that much acting in Philadelphia."

Escalating a 10-day display of enthusiasm for Gore's surprise choice--what Gore campaign chairman William Daley calls "Liebermania"--Democrats interrupted the speech by chanting "Go Joe go!" His rhetoric was reassuring to African Americans and other liberals who had questioned some of his senatorial stands on school vouchers and affirmative action.

In classic fashion, he promised to "work my heart out to make Al Gore the president of the United States." After recalling the struggles of his own immigrant grandparents and introducing his 85-year-old mother, Lieberman, the first in his family to graduate from college, recited his battles as Connecticut attorney general against polluters, deadbeat dads and "big oil companies who were trying to gouge consumers at the pump."

While Republicans talked about improving the environment and health care, the air and water in Texas "is some of the worst in America," and the state leads the nation in the percentage of residents without health insurance, Lieberman said.

And for all Bush's emphasis on education reform, the nominee said, "it sometimes seems to me like their idea of school modernization means buying a new calendar for every building."

Funds that are needed for those purposes, Lieberman said, the Republicans would squander on a tax cut "for those who need it least."

Arguing that Bush would not sponsor or sign serious campaign finance legislation, Lieberman appealed to undecided voters to recognize that "if you want to reform the system and not retreat from the problems, Al Gore and I are ready to do the job."

Ari Fleischer, a Bush campaign spokesman, called Lieberman's recital of the Texas record "a series of distortions" based on biased research. "The more time Joe Lieberman spends with Al Gore, the more partisan he gets and the more his convictions change," Fleischer said.

But not even Republicans doubted Lieberman's sincerity when he spoke of his personal friendship with Gore. "I've known Al Gore for 15 years," he said. "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."

Lieberman's speech was a hit in the Staples Center. Jean A. Milko, a Pennsylvania delegate, said his record and personality will help overcome voters' belief that "politicians don't work and can't be trusted. Joe is an individual that everybody can trust, everybody likes and everyone has faith in."

But the stakes will be even higher when Gore takes the podium Thursday night. Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack said: "The president did a great job of reminding us of how we got the record prosperity we've been enjoying. But the deal has to be sealed by the vice president himself. He needs to tell us how he thinks we should use that prosperity--and I'm confident he will do it."

Signaling that he would deliver a substantive speech, Gore told reporters who accompanied him from Michigan aboard Air Force Two that he wants to give voters "a clearer idea of exactly what I'm proposing to do."

He was welcomed to Burbank airport by Lieberman and about 1,000 supporters, and it was there that he claimed the title of "new guard" for his ticket--a contrast to the Republican "old guard" of Bush and his running mate, former defense secretary Richard B. Cheney.

His reception was a warm one. But the enthusiasm of poll-watching delegates was tempered by their recognition that the Gore-Lieberman ticket still is running uphill against the Republican pair.

In his airport remarks, Gore vowed to force Bush to explain his positions on the "specific hard choices" that await the next administration. He will have his best opportunity Thursday night.

He said he had been working on the speech for almost two months and now feels "very relaxed" about delivering it. Whatever the reception, Gore added, "I deserve the credit or the blame" for it.

Although the main work of the evening was setting the stage for Gore's acceptance speech, the Democrats got in a few licks at the opposition. House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri raked the congressional Republicans he hopes to oust from power for being intolerant of others' views and dictatorial in their tactics.

And California Gov. Gray Davis took a shot at the Vietnam War records of the Republican nominees. "As a Vietnam veteran myself," Davis said, "I can tell you one measure of character is how a person responds when duty calls. Al Gore answered the call. . . . He put himself in harm's way for America."

And in an apparent reference to Bush, who served in the Air National Guard during Vietnam, and Cheney, who had a series of student deferments and a final deferment as a father, Davis said: "If you're going to apply the character test, you better be able to pass the character test."

Before he took to the podium tonight, Lieberman continued his rounds of delegate caucuses, visiting with Latinos, Asian Americans and gays.

Despite his efforts, rumbles of controversy about the choice of the first Jewish candidate on a major-party national ticket continued. The American Jewish Congress released a letter from its executive director, Phil Baum, protesting an editorial in the Amsterdam News, an African American newspaper in New York.

Baum criticized the paper for saying the explanation for Lieberman's place on the ticket was simple: "It's the money, stupid." The editorial said the Democratic ticket had been "sold to the highest bidder."

Baum said: "Every informed observer across ideological lines, across the racial and religious lines that have traditionally divided America, has conceded that Lieberman was chosen for his rectitude and moral courage--exactly the opposite of what you have charged."

Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna E. Shalala, whose family emigrated from Lebanon, met with a caucus of Arab American delegates to offer reassurance that Lieberman's elevation did not imply any change in U.S. policy toward the Middle East. "I told them that Lieberman is a breakthrough for us," she said, a signal that more minority groups are moving into the mainstream of American life.

And in an impassioned speech to the delegates, Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, a hero of the civil rights movement, called Lieberman "my friend and my brother" and praised him for leaving "the comfort of New Haven" to work for voting rights for African Americans in the South.

Lieberman, who as a senator expressed strong reservations about some affirmative action programs, declared in his speech that "I continue to say, when it comes to affirmative action, mend it, but don't end it."

Earlier in the session, Gephardt promised that Democrats will be "more tolerant, more open and more inclusive" if they take control of the House in November.

Gephardt, who has worked furiously to recruit candidates and raise record sums in an effort to win the extra six seats needed to end a six-year-old Republican majority, complained that "every day in every way, the Republican leadership has been one-sided--intolerant of other views and unbending to compromise and consensus."

"They don't communicate," he said. "They dictate."

Gephardt placed the responsibility on the Republicans for the failure of this Congress to enact a patients' bill of rights, a Medicare prescription drug benefit, a campaign-finance reform bill or any gun legislation.

Between chants from the convention floor of "Take back the House," he acknowledged that "when we were in the majority, we made some errors"--he named none of them--but said: "I promise you that if we win a majority, we will be humble about our beliefs and listen to the beliefs of others. We will work with the Republicans to try to find consensus."

While Gephardt promised harmony on Capitol Hill, former treasury secretary Robert Rubin, an icon of Wall Street, declared that Gore was the best bet for "sound and sensible economic policy and a strong economy in the years ahead." Rubin said Gore was "a powerful and effective force" in achieving the current prosperity and is "committed to . . . strong fiscal discipline, investment in our people and trade liberalization."

Staff writers Mike Allen and Ceci Connolly contributed to this report.

2000 The Washington Post Company

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