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
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
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,"
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
© 2000 The Washington Post Company