Lieberman Pulls Back on Religion
By David S. Broder, Washington Post,
Sunday 10 September 2000;
To hear Democratic vice presidential nominee Joseph I. Lieberman tell
it, no one should think he is trying to inject religion into the
campaign, and no big business should fear hostility from a
But in an interview Friday afternoon aboard his chartered jet between
appearances in Texas and Florida, the Connecticut senator acknowledged
he had heard enough concerns expressed on both subjects to give him
"It was not my intention" to suggest that bringing religion
more prominently into public life is the only way to overcome "the
widespread public concern over declining moral values" in this
nation, Lieberman said. "To me, faith can be a source--but
certainly not the only source--of sound values."
As for the populist rhetoric Vice President Gore has unleashed on oil
and drug companies, health maintenance organizations and insurance
firms, Lieberman said, "I don't think it should have" made
business apprehensive, "but I've heard some [business] people say
it, so I try to assure them that a Gore administration would be
pro-growth and pro-business."
The senator, who has enjoyed strong financial and political backing
from insurance and defense firms in his home-state campaigns, said,
"I feel very positively" about the pharmaceutical industry and
its contributions to the nation's health and "see nothing
inherently wrong with a big business as long as it is treating
customers and workers fairly. If not, government has a right to act to
protect the public interest."
Lieberman, the first Jew ever nominated on a major-party ticket,
created some controversy when he offered a prayer at his first joint
appearance with Gore and then delivered a pair of speeches to church
groups arguing that the First Amendment "does not mean freedom
from religion but freedom for religion." He was criticized by some
liberal spokesmen, including the head of the Anti-Defamation League,
who said he had crossed the line between church and state.
In the interview, Lieberman vigorously denied that his comments were
part of a campaign strategy to blunt the "moral issue"
Republicans were using in the wake of the Clinton scandals. "I
said what I have been saying for 20 years," the senator
said. "There was nothing in these statements that was either
encouraged or cleared by what we refer to as Nashville," the site
of Gore's campaign headquarters.
In fact, Lieberman said, "some people [in the campaign] were
uneasy" about the comments, "but when Al and I got together on
the West Coast, he was very supportive."
As for criticisms of his message, the candidate said, "I felt I
was misinterpreted. It was certainly not my intention" to suggest
that religion was the only strong source of values, "but I can
understand how people felt that way."
Lieberman said that the line he quoted from George
Washington--"never to indulge the supposition that morality can be
maintained without religion"--may have created a wrong impression
but that he thought his own words showed he understood "we must be
respectful of others' beliefs, be inclusive and above all, be mindful
of the First Amendment. . . . The greatness of this country is that we
don't impose our beliefs on others."
If Lieberman appeared to be pulling back from some of his previous
statements on religion, when it came to business, he was trying to
correct an impression left by Gore's populist rhetoric.
At an appearance in Arkansas last Thursday, Lieberman approvingly
quoted a line from the late former senator Paul Tsongas of
Massachusetts, his Yale law school classmate: "You can't be
pro-jobs and anti-business."
"I really do believe it," Lieberman said in the interview,
"and I have for a long time." He said that when Democrat Ella
Grasso was governor of Connecticut and he was party leader in the
state Senate, they worked closely with business, adding, "And, of
course, I've been part of the New Democratic crowd as long as I've
been in Washington."
Despite the Democratic refrain that drug companies are profiteering at
the expense of the elderly, Lieberman said he was opposed to price
controls on drugs--"they've never worked on anything." But he
said pharmaceutical companies' fears that including a prescription
drug benefit under Medicare, as Democrats have proposed, would
inevitably lead to price controls are misplaced. It would simply mean,
he said, "the government could negotiate for better prices, just
as the HMOs do for their members."
A former Connecticut attorney general, Lieberman said he has not
closely examined the government's case for breaking up Microsoft but
observed that the usual warning signs of "monopolistic
behavior--higher prices and less innovation--on the surface do not
seem to have happened here." But, he noted, "the judge found
very aggressive behavior" by Microsoft and ruled that these
actions may have reduced price competition or delayed
innovations. "It's a very important and complicated case," he
said, "and I don't want to try to judge it."
It is also an important issue in Washington state, where Microsoft is
headquartered and where Gore and Lieberman are being seriously
challenged by GOP presidential nominee Texas Gov. George W. Bush and
his running mate, Richard B. Cheney. The Clinton-Gore ticket carried
the state in 1992 and 1996.