You couldn't blame Hillary Clinton's campaign staff for launching into a lusty rendition of "Hava Nagila" Monday afternoon. While that probably didn't actually happen, the staff had compelling reason to celebrate: If you believe the Democrats' hype, Al Gore, in choosing Connecticut senator Joseph Lieberman as his running mate, has suddenly and unequivocally secured American Jews' allegiance to the Democratic ticket and, Clinton aides fervently hope, to the First Lady's bid for a Senate seat.
Lieberman, a practicing Modern Orthodox Jew, is upheld by Democrats and Republicans alike as a pillar of morality in the oft-desecrated world of politics. He's the rare politician, his legion supporters say, with both impeccable ethics and a healthy dose of self-denigrating humor. Monday, Lieberman's selection sent ripples of joy through the Jewish community in the Northeast; conservative religious Jews, who have tended recently to support candidates who lean to the right on social issues, reversed themselves and pledged their support to the Gore-Lieberman ticket.
As Hillary continues a heated campaign in New York, where the Jewish vote carries enormous weight, the trick will be to position herself as closely as possible to that wave of approval, and hope that through some blessing of association, or political osmosis, she'll be able to make Gore's decision reflect happily on her own campaign. It will be tougher than it sounds: Clinton is no great favorite among many New York Jews; some view her support for a Palestinian state as a serious threat to Israeli security, and others were horrified by her apparently chummy relationship with Mrs. Arafat, as evidenced by the exchange of a warm buss during a diplomatic visit. Clinton has also been hurt by a recent inflammatory (albeit widely repudiated) account of a livid Hillary hurling anti-Semitic slurs during a dark moment in one of her husband's campaigns.
As Lieberman becomes more visible, particularly during the northeastern campaign swings, Clinton aides hope the Jewish community's collective heart will soften. And they may have good reason to hope. It will be awfully hard, after all, to seriously attack Clinton on charges of anti-Semitism or anti-Israeli sentiment with Joe Lieberman standing next to her. Maybe they could even get her to wear his yarmulke.