The Washington Times

The inclusion of New Hampshire Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, who was entirely implausible as a vice presidential nominee at this stage of her political career, seemed mainly to provide a small counterweight to the white maleness of Al Gore’s short list for vice president. It’s now clear, however, that Mr. Gore’s short list was only superficially universe. It seems impossible to avoid the conclusion that Sen. Joseph Lieberman’s Jewishness was a central point in his favor from the beginning.

His selection is the most impressive thing Mr. Gore has done to date. If Mr. Gore really is going to turn around the Superball bounce of a lead the Bush-Cheney ticket has opened up, this will have to be just the first in a string of smart political moves through November.

Is it possible that the United States, an overwhelmingly Christian country, is not yet ready for a Jewish vice president? That seems unlikely on its face, and it’s also the wrong question. If you’re counting electoral votes, better to ask: Are New York, California and Florida ready for a Jewish vice president? That they surely are.

Moreover, the selection of Mr. Lieberman may make for an interesting problem on Mr. Bush’s end. The Bush campaign has currently put together an impressive coalition, maintaining the enthusiastic support of the conservative GOP base but reaching well beyond it. Needless to say, there is, in principle, a tension between keeping one’s base happy and reaching out.

There is probably no more anti-Semitism on the right end of the American political spectrum than among blacks, for example. But one characteristic of evangelical Christianity is a distinct view of the role of the Jews in biblical history and eschatology, and it is not a view that Jews care for in the least. Nor does it comport well with the easygoing nonjudgmentalism presumed to characterize the thinking of soccer moms. If some of the more piquant aspects of this evangelical view surface during the campaign – one might as well say, when these aspects surface – it will be a real test of the Bush campaign’s facility.

The decision to go to Bob Jones University as the means to secure Mr. Bush’s conservative flank during Sen. John McCain’s primary surge was hardly an indication of sure-footedness on these matters. Republicans thought they had made it past Bob Jones – that they had knocked off Mr. McCain without doing lasting damage to their appeal to moderate voters. This was a delusion. Democrats haven’t even begun their attempt to punish Mr. Bush for Bob Jones.

Mr. Lieberman is likely to be effective on the attack. He suffers from no integrity gap; just the opposite. If Republicans enjoyed themselves quoting the nice things Democrats once said about Richard B. Cheney, Democrats will now have the pleasure of quoting the nice things Republicans have said about Mr. Lieberman.

As for the harsh words Mr. Lieberman had for President Clinton’s conduct in the Lewinsky affair – though he later joined all Democratic senators in voting to acquit the president on impeachment articles – it’s hard to see who, exactly, would want to make an issue of this. Impeachment is the dog that isn’t barking in this election. Republicans are apt to think that the selection of Mr. Lieberman reflects badly on Mr. Clinton. And it does, but so what? Mr. Clinton is not running for a third term. Mr. Gore, in selecting Mr. Lieberman, has obviously “moved on.” The vice president surely noted that Mr. Lieberman’s position at the time precisely mirrored the views of the American people: strong personal disapproval combined with an unwillingness to remove Mr. Clinton from office. As for Mr. Clinton himself, he would certainly rather see Mr. Gore win with Mr. Lieberman on the ticket than Mr. Gore lose with the staunchest Clinton defender on the ticket.

Much has been made in this campaign, not only by Republicans, but also by Democratic strategists quoted anonymously and even well-wishing commentators, of Mr. Gore’s seeming inability to define who he is. Adversity seems to have cleared his mind. Mr. Gore has given the nod to someone in the New Democrat mold in which Mr. Gore has cast himself: not as a liberal, and certainly not as a conservative, but as self-consciously centrist and pragmatic.

Mr. Gore has a long climb back. But in selecting Mr. Lieberman, Mr. Gore has brought a certain clarity to the 2000 election, which is now a test of precisely where the center of American politics lies. Is this a New Democrat country looking for a Third Way between the ideological extremes of orthodox liberalism and conservatism? Or is this a compassionate conservative country whose center-right orientation sees conservative reform as the best way to help people succeed? We are going to find out.