Today's Papers

Mensch at Work

Everybody leads with Joe Lieberman’s acceptance speech at the Democratic convention, which also tops the Wall Street Journal’s front-page news index. The Washington Post front is the most politically inebriated, with three-quarters of it about L.A.

The coverage says Lieberman connected with the delegates, and it suggests that his tact of nesting criticisms of the Republican ticket within laugh lines and personal reminiscences is more effective than the straight attack-dog routine. For example, “Their tax plan operates under that old theory that the best way to feed the birds is to give more oats to the horse.” USA Today   articulates one Lieberman softening technique: He never mentioned George W. Bush or Dick Cheney by name. But the Los Angeles Times   notes that this didn’t keep him from sly references to the opposition, such as his comment that when he was Connecticut attorney general he “even sued big oil companies who were trying to gouge consumers at the pump”–a dig at the oil company backgrounds of Bush and Cheney.

The coverage notes that Lieberman trimmed his sails on his former anti-affirmative-action stand, announcing he was now in the “mend it, don’t end it” camp. Both the New York Times   and WSJ note that help on this score also came in the form of civil rights legend John Lewis, who was one of Lieberman’s nominators. But the coverage also shows Lieberman not retreating from his role of Hollywood hall monitor: “No parent should be forced to compete with popular culture to raise their children.”

The coverage notes some other potential riptides below last night’s shimmery smooth surface. The LAT reports that in recent days the Gore campaign has made special efforts to engage Arab-Americans, and the WP says that Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala, who is of Lebanese descent, recently met with a caucus of Arab-American convention delegates to reassure them that Lieberman’s selection did not signify any change in U.S. Middle East policy.

The USAT front-page “cover story” says that the Democratic convention is marked by a growing concern about Gore’s chances, driven by an increasing realization that Bush is not a pushover and that Gore still just hasn’t settled voter skepticism. Especially sobering to Democratic Party regulars, says the paper, is the paper’s recent polling data indicating that 47 percent of likely voters would not vote for Gore under any circumstances. “An awful lot rests on Gore’s ability to show he has a message and can exert leadership,” former Clinton chief of staff Leon Panetta tells the paper. “But up to this point, there has been no crisp message about what his presidency would be about.” That there is all this pressure on tonight’s speech is, points out the WP’s Richard Cohen, itself troubling. After all, reminds Cohen, Gore was in Congress for 16 years and was VP for eight and has even already run for president.

The WP, NYT, and LAT front the Russian sub disaster. There’s no real change with the sub itself, but the Russian government has relented and has now asked for help from the British government, which has responded by providing an undersea rescue vehicle, now being brought on-scene. The coverage says that the situation has gripped Russia’s attention and created grumbling about the Russian government’s competence and truthfulness in general and about Vladimir Putin in particular. Putin is reported to have spoken on the phone with President Clinton about the episode but Putin has not requested any U.S. aid and did not accept Clinton’s offers of help.

The LAT runs a story inside about Tipper Gore’s career as a rock music content watchdog, an effort the Tipmeister eased out of as her husband became more nationally prominent. The story goes out with a wistful quotation from the current head of the Parents’ Music Resource Center, the monitoring outfit Tipper founded in the mid-’80s: “It’s a shame, she has the bully pulpit now, and she could make a big difference,” she’s quoted saying, “But much of [Al Gore’s donation] money comes from the entertainment world, frankly, so I don’t see that happening.”

For the second day in a row, the NYT op-ed page productively addresses a contemporary hot issue by being a bit historical. Cindy Williams (not presumably of Laverne & Shirley fame) responds to the modish Republican charge of an underpaid military thus: Yes, the gap between military pay and civilian counterpart pay is 13 percent. But on the day President Clinton took office, it was already 11.5 percent. And it was already 11 percent when the U.S. fought and won the Gulf War. In other words, the current gap can’t really be blamed on the Democrats, and pay isn’t always a top priority for the military anyway. Today’s Papers would add that it isn’t even always a top priority for the service members, who often know they will make big bucks after they get out as a result of the training they’re getting and/or are experiencing psychic rewards so great as to eclipse whatever financial sacrifices they’re making. In general, the press over-quantifies military pay issues, because reporters don’t generally have the understanding of the military culture they’d have gotten if they’d actually served.

Today’s top political psychological profile is on the WP front, where one learns of Gore: “He has the skills of a juggler, capable of balancing a clothes hanger or pool cue or tennis racket on the bridge of his nose, but he has worked too long studying too many policy issues to risk being thought of as the class clown, and it is unlikely that he will try to balance a pen on his nose tonight before he expounds on his plan to save the Social Security system.” Try to imagine the prodigious reporting that goes behind such a paragraph. Harder still–try to imagine the point.