"It's a great pick"

Harry Shearer, Al Franken and Jewish leaders weigh in on Al Gore's veep choice.

By Daryl Lindsey - Anthony York - Alicia Montgomery
Published August 8, 2000 7:08PM (EDT)

Al Gore's selection of Sen. Joseph Lieberman as his running mate has been met with glowing reviews. As the first Jew to be selected for a national ticket, Lieberman has non-party-line views on issues such as school vouchers, Social Security and President Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky that have been embraced by Republicans, while few Democrats have publicly criticized the selection.

Other than a publicity spike for the groundbreaking choice, at first glance it is hard to see what Lieberman adds to the ticket. As a Northeasterner, Lieberman hails from a region Gore is likely to carry in November. And if it is distance from Clinton, it should be noted that Lieberman eventually voted against impeachment, and that the Bush campaign shows no signs of abandoning its attacks on the Clinton-Gore combo. But that hasn't stopped this group of intellectuals, politicians and humorists from gushing over Lieberman's selection:

Harry Shearer is one of America's foremost humorists.

Bill Bennett will be very happy. Thank God we'll finally clean up movies. I was surprised. I thought he would go for John Kerry and do the we-were-both-in-Vietnam, where-were-you-guys approach. I guess he felt an obligation to Lieberman as the Biz [detergent] candidate. Al Gore felt he needed a little more stain removal.

As we all know, the Jews run the country anyway. But of course it's a [major political development.] It's been 40 years since the first Catholic candidate for president. Now I guess it'll be 2050 when we have the first Muslim-American. Anti-Semites are not going to even be voting for George W. Bush, but will probably be voting for Pat Buchanan if he gets the Reform Party nomination. I think the calculus was that those people would never be voting for a Democratic presidential candidate anyway. And there's probably a cushion shot happening where it may help revive Hillary's campaign in New York.

So they probably figured that Lieberman had slightly more advantages than disadvantages, which is all you can ask for in a vice presidential pick. To me, it carries somewhat depressing news that we will be in for a season of absolutely unrelenting pious moralizing. This country seems to need a dose of that once in a while, but I try to hide while it's passing overhead. It's like an ugly fall squall.

The entertainment industry will swallow hard and mutter softly into their chardonnay, and then move along. Actually the first person who told me it was going to be Lieberman was a Hollywood producer on Friday night. So this has probably already circulated, and it's been bounced against them for a couple of days, so they've already put the mental Band-Aids on.

Marvin Olasky is an advisor to the Bush campaign who helped the Texas governor craft the concept of compassionate conservatism. Olasky himself converted from Judaism to Christianity and came under fire earlier this year for criticizing three Jewish reporters as "having holes in their souls." Olasky insists that he was not referring to the reporters' religion, but to a lack of faith and pervasive cynicism among reporters in general.

It's a great pick. I think it's the best pick Al Gore could have made. I edit World, a weekly newsmagazine which is an alternative to Time or Newsweek. We're going to have a cover story on Lieberman next week, and it'll be generally positive.

Of course, I disagree with him on many political issues, but overall I think it's a great pick. It's great in America that we've overcome the prejudice of past generations.

I don't know all the details about him, but I know that he's worked closely with Bill Bennett on issues of values in politics. I know he had his concerns about certain aspects of rap music and so forth. Orthodox Jews and Christians need to forge more common ground on issues like school vouchers and faith-based organizations, issues which Lieberman supports. He understands the importance of faith-based groups. So there are a lot of points of contact there. I think it's very important that conservative Christians and Orthodox Jews continue to build alliances on issues of faith in politics. Of course, they've already been growing -- in the pro-life movement for example. I understand Lieberman is not pro-life, but there have been great interfaith alliances between Christians and Orthodox Jews on that issue.

Overall, I suspect he has a generally liberal voting record, and that's no surprise. But I think he's the perfect counter to Cheney. Both men have gravitas. Politically, it was a very shrewd move by Gore.

Bob Callahan is the creator of the "Dark Hotel" comic strip and a childhood friend of Sen. Lieberman.

Joe and I became friends in high school -- we were the class of 1960. What was riveting to both of us in that year was John F. Kennedy's campaign. Joe was class president and already very political. Joe already thought that politics would be his life. and he was already thinking he'd climb the ladder as high as it would take him. He saw the Kennedy campaign as an important part of his education. He thought that if an Irish Catholic guy could become president, so could a Jewish guy. And, at that time, it was very questionable -- my father would say to my brother and me that Kennedy wouldn't get elected because he was an Irish Catholic. My father remembered Al Smith, the only other Catholic to have run for president -- whose defeat was clearly the result of the South rising against him as a Catholic -- and thought that if he couldn't win, a Jew couldn't. We had a very innocent outlook-- it was a new frontier. But it's impossible on the other side of Bobby Kennedy's assassination, Watergate and Iran-Contra to summon up the feelings of the time. Kennedy's election was very heartening for Joe and me. I know how my Jewish friends are feeling today.

This is the culmination of a 40-year march. I've been watching over Joe's shoulder for 40 years. The last time we were close, we were running Bobby Kennedy's campaign in Southern Connecticut -- we were still working on his campaign the night he was killed. After that, politics just wasn't the same for me. All my heroes went down, and all of Joe's, too -- the Kennedys, Martin Luther King Jr. I moved out West and went into journalism and writing and literature; Joe went into politics. Sometimes, I'll look back and say, He got so conservative, but he's honest to a fault and those are good convictions. What makes me feel good today is that I know what a wonderful human being he is -- he's a totally moral person; he has a great family. If the Republicans attack his religion, they'll make a huge mistake. The way he has integrated his religious background into his life is enviable to anyone who knows him. It's a wonderful part of his life, and it will be very positive for his campaign. People are trying to figure out how to add a spiritual element to their lives and this guy has. But he's not going to proselytize.

My father died when I was in high school, and I used to hang out at Joe's house -- he thought it was great to have a goy around. I would turn on the lights, and we'd watch television. His family could call me, and I could do all the things they couldn't do [because they were Orthodox Jews]. I could go down to get pizza, I could drive. I was very useful. They were family to me, and it changed my whole life. Without Joe, I don't know where I would have gone. He stood up for me when no one else did -- and he turned my life around for me. My family was poor -- my dad was gone, my mom was working in a shop -- it was a tough time for us. Joe told me, "You're worth something -- you've got to get to school and turn your life around. You don't want to wind up at a bar." I pulled out my yearbook last night, and in it he wrote "In 10 years, you, me and Paul T. [my brother] are going to be running Stamford [Conn.]" Now he may help run the United States.

Al Franken, former cast member of "Saturday Night Live" and author of "Why Not Me? The Inside Story of the Franken Presidency."

I was very happy to hear it. In fact, in my book "Why Not Me? The Inside Story of the Franken Presidency" he was my running mate. I wanted to balance the ticket -- I'm Reform and he's Orthodox. I kind of think it won't matter either way that he's Jewish. I don't think people who would not vote for a Jew were going to vote for Gore anyway. It's hard to spike Jewish turnout because Jews already vote so much. And I don't really think that people who would vote for Gore anyway would not vote for him because Lieberman's an Orthodox Jew. And the fact that he's devout would be attractive to some people and make them look at the ticket -- here's someone who actually goes to a house of worship every week. One advantage with Lieberman -- and I think this will be an advantage at some point during the race -- is that, finally, one of these four guys who is running on these two tickets will have a day to think every week, which I think will be good. Personally, he's just a great guy. He's very funny, and he's got a great sense of humor.

Jonathan Tobin is executive editor of the Jewish Exponent.

There's no downplaying the fact that this is a historic moment, and it is particularly satisfying for the Jewish community that, when this day came, it was someone like Joe Lieberman. He's a person who isn't merely Jewish, but proudly Jewish. He's someone who infuses his work with religious values. His moral authority in the Senate comes not in spite of his religion, but because he is an observant Jew.

Bush took a lot of heat when he mentioned Jesus as one of his favorite political philosophers. The problem with that was [that] a lot of people don't take to the idea of George W. Bush as a deeply religious person, even if he is. Lieberman talks the talk and walks the walk. You can like Joe Lieberman or not like him, but no one can honestly say that, when he speaks of religious values, he's not speaking genuinely from the heart.

I think the selection also proves that anti-Semitism isn't really that big a deal anymore, and that people are generally more comfortable with the idea of faith in public life right now. There is a return to public faith -- not necessarily a state religion -- but the idea that faith is part of our public life.

Abraham Foxman is national director of the Anti-Defamation League.

The choice of Sen. Joe Lieberman as a vice presidential candidate is a milestone in America's political maturity. Sen. Lieberman is a man of experience, values, conscience and a strong commitment to America's democratic principles.

The senator, an observant Jew, who has served the people of Connecticut for 12 years, is proud of his tradition and religion. While anti-Semites and those on the fringe of society who subscribe to conspiracy theories may have a field day with the choice of Sen. Lieberman, we remain confident that the American people will dismiss the extremists and consider him on his public record.

Daryl Lindsey

Daryl Lindsey is associate editor of Salon News and an Arthur Burns fellow. He currently lives in Berlin and writes for Salon and Die Welt.

MORE FROM Daryl Lindsey

Anthony York

Anthony York is Salon's Washington correspondent.

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Alicia Montgomery

Alicia Montgomery is an associate editor in Salon's Washington bureau.

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