As Veep Choice, Lieberman Covers Two Bases for Gore

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Most of Al Gore's vice presidential options covered one base; Joe Lieberman covered at least two — inoculation against Clinton fatigue, and shoring up the liberal base. And that made choosing him an inspired gambit, with an upside that overcame any reservations about whether the country is ready to vote for a Jewish vice president. As the first Democrat to unreservedly castigate President Clinton over Monica Lewinsky, Lieberman may have been the best choice to neutralize Governor Bush's "restore dignity and honor to the White House" refrain and pull the rug out from under Bush's strategy of running against President Clinton.

At the same time, their short list suggests that Gore's handlers were also concerned to stanch the bleeding on their left flank, where Ralph Nader may prove to be more than simply a gadfly. And while Lieberman's hawkish positions on defense haven't exactly endeared him to the Democratic party left, he's tended to vote with liberals on taxes, abortion, gun control and other social issues. He's a moved-to-the-center kind of liberal with a reputation for integrity, and relatively straight-shooting. The Democrats are spinning it as a bold move to grab the center, citing Liebermanís moderation and integrity as about as McCain-esque as it gets on the Democratic side of the aisle.

So, has Gore counterpunched the Cheney choice? Lieberman is fresher than the "old guard" (read Cheney) picks like George Mitchell or even Bob Graham, more moderate than ideological (read Cheney) picks like Kerry or Gephardt, and yet doesn't leave Gore too alone at the top with a neophyte like Bayh or recent contender Edwards.Dick Cheney doesn't seriously out-heft Lieberman. Qualifications-wise, that is. He exudes ethics more than charisma, and isn't an oratorical superstar. He's from the Northeast, one of the few regions Gore can be confident of winning. He has no particular constituency, no ideological sweet spot; just news-watchers who vaguely admire him. But barring a national reaction to Lieberman's intense (and to the heartland, probably eyebrow-raising) religious habits and persuasion, Lieberman, like Cheney, probably won't hurt.

And then thereís the ethnic question: While America may have officially liquidated anti-Semitism decades ago, Jews haven't exactly been the chosen people of presidential politics. Then again, it's not only California and New York that have elected Jews to the Senate, but also Wisconsin, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Michigan, Oregon and Connecticut. That and the fact that President Clinton has appointed more Jews to the Cabinet than any of his predecessors suggests that Gore isn't so much breaking a taboo as confirming a trend.

Moreover, Lieberman's seriousness about religion — he's an Orthodox Jew, which is serious business — gives him a greater aura as a moral leader than just an ethnic one. You'll probably be seeing Gore in a yarmulke more often than before, and not just at fund-raisers or United Jewish Appeal dinners.

Joseph Lieberman was born in Stamford, Conn., in 1942. After spending his formative years in Connecticut public schools, he earned his undergraduate and law degrees from Connecticut's least-public school (otherwise known as Yale University).

In 1970, Lieberman was elected to the Connecticut State Senate, lost a 1980 bid for a seat in the U.S. Congress, and took over the post of state attorney general in 1982. He won a seat in the U.S. Senate in 1988, defeating a three-term Democrat whose liberal voting record provided Lieberman with plenty of ammunition.

Since his election to the Senate, Lieberman has maintained a moderate stance, except when confronted with social issues: He supports abortion rights and gun control but was in favor of the Gulf War, capital gains tax cuts and free trade with China. After the Monica Lewinsky revelation, Lieberman was the first Democratic senator to defy party lines and publicly rebuke President Clinton, calling the President's behavior "inappropriate, immoral and harmful."

An Orthodox Jew, Lieberman takes pains to avoid campaigning on the Sabbath, or from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. He and his wife, Hadassah, have four children and live in New Haven, Conn.