Today's Papers

Ticket Fixing

Everybody leads with Al Gore’s selection–to be made official today–of Sen. Joseph Lieberman as his running mate. Every headline mentions that Lieberman is the first Jew to run on a major party’s national ticket, but only the New York Times puts it in the largest type over its story. The Wall Street Journal front-page Lieberman feature seems the most sophisticated and least tribal in that it starts off parsing his political positions (tough on Hollywood violence, a free trader who’s tough on unions, tough on presidential office sex), as if he were, you know, a politician, and can manage to wait until the fifth paragraph before getting into the Jewish Question.

Everybody mentions that Lieberman was the first prominent Democrat to criticize President Clinton’s conduct in the Lewinsky scandal, behavior he called “immoral” on the floor of the Senate. Therefore, the papers explain, the idea of adding him to the ticket is to help sever the sort of “joined at the hip” connection between Bill Clinton and Al Gore that the Republicans were pushing at their convention last week. But the coverage is fraught with questions about that logic. For instance, a front-page NYT story says that several political consultants would have no trouble coming up with an attack commercial for the Republicans that seized on Lieberman’s presence on the ticket. It would, says the paper, open with Lieberman wagging his finger “like an Old Testament prophet” while excoriating Clinton for his conduct and then cutting to Gore celebrating Clinton as “one of our greatest presidents.” In other words, according to the papers, the Lieberman choice either 1) insulates Gore from Clinton’s baggage; or 2) saddles him with it.

And quite generally it looks as if Lieberman’s positions–he’s for, the papers note, partial privatization of Social Security, open to school vouchers, and more or less against affirmative action–are different enough from Gore’s to invite the charge that in picking him, Gore has displayed rather naked expediency. Several papers quote George W. Bush’s spokesman referring to Gore’s selection as that of “a man whose positions are more similar to Gov. Bush’s than to his own.”

USA Today reports that a poll conducted last night after the Lieberman announcement shows Bush’s lead over Gore has almost disappeared among registered voters. This is contrary to the latest WP poll, where Bush is still way on top, which the paper reports on today. And represents a 17-point difference from the poll of likely voters USAT conducted yesterday. (And Today’s Papers apologizes for not seeing, contrary to the assertion in yesterday’s column, that the USAT poll did indeed ask inside about a four-way race. Still, the paper should put such crucial information before the jump.)

Counting inside stories, op-eds, and editorials, there is just an orgy of Lieberman material. The coverage expresses two main views about the choice and anti-Semitism: 1) the Lieberman choice shows that it’s on the wane; or 2) it’s going to stimulate the nation’s huge reserves of anti-Semitism.

Much is made of Lieberman’s Orthodox practices, especially of his staying out of cars and not turning on lights on the Sabbath. Everybody talks about his walking on occasional Saturdays the three or so miles from his house to the Senate to cast a vote. (Here’s Richard Cohen’s perambulatory peroration: “The man who walked home that cold night could have driven. No one would have known. He could have walked two blocks and hailed a cab. No one would have known that, either–or cared. I suspect, though, that Joe Lieberman walked all the way because he knew–as Clinton, for one, never has known–that selling out, like a long walk home, begins with a single step.”) But the Washington Post runs the most direct account of exactly what Lieberman’s stance is on when he’s allowed to do his job: The acid test in his mind is concern for human life and actual governing rather than ceremonial politics. So, in other words, he could work on a Saturday during a national emergency or a war or vote for a mine safety bill. (But could he ever light the National Christmas Tree?)

The NYT quotes Warren Christopher, who administered the VP search for Gore, as saying that Bush’s choice of Cheney had influenced the choice of Lieberman, because it meant that the choice had to have an equivalent degree of “seriousness reflected by his record.” You have to put it together between all the walking on Saturday anecdotes, but there’s another similarity with Cheney briefly mentioned in the coverage: Lieberman also avoided military service during Vietnam via deferments for being a grad student and being married.

Hyperbole is the rule today. A NYT op-ed claims that “Al Gore has shattered the enduring concept of American Jewish insecurity” with his choice. The USAT front-page “cover story” quotes Simon Wiesenthal Center founder Rabbi Marvin Hier calling the pick “the political equivalent of landing a man on the moon. America will never be the same.” (Actually, this is more like landing Marvin Hier on the moon.)