Hypocrisy is, indeed, the tribute vice pays to virtue. Last week, the Washington Post featured a front-page story titled "Taking the Spirit to the Stump." It was not about Ralph Reed or the Christian Coalition. It wasn't about Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson. It wasn't even about Gov. George W. Bush and his comments about his belief in a "compassionate conservatism" that treats every member of society as a child of God.
If it were about any of this, we'd know before we read the article, because numerous organizations in the Jewish community would have already sent out a flurry of press releases decrying the dangerous erosion of church-state separation. They would have said what all their past press releases said about those very figures: Words like "dangerous," "grave concern," "intolerance," would have rolled through the fax machines of America's Jewish community. Indeed, you will find these very words describing Bush's comments about religion and faith.
However, the Washington Post story was about a Jewish candidate, Democratic vice presidential nominee Joseph Lieberman. To date, only one of the many major national Jewish organizations, the Anti-Defamation League, has reproached him. The others have lost their voice.
We recall the day Lieberman was named by Al Gore as his running mate and Lieberman's first words were "Praise God, from whom all blessings flow," as he quoted from Scripture. This level of religion-speak on the hustings is unseen in modern-day politics. And yet our fax machine lies silent. The releases and e-mails are not forthcoming because it is "their" candidate.
Reading the news and opinion accounts of Lieberman, the monikers "Democratic moderate," "conscience of the Senate," and "independent thinker" are flooding the airwaves and printing presses. The real record of Lieberman, and what his candidacy means, however, reminds us of Confucius' teaching that when words lose their meaning, people lose their liberty.
As a "moderate," Lieberman spoke out in support of Clarence Thomas' nomination to the Supreme Court. He then voted against his nomination. As a "moderate," Lieberman was the first Democratic senator to criticize Bill Clinton's behavior and deceit as "immoral." He then voted to acquit the president on all counts of impeachment. As a "moderate," Lieberman has spoken of the sanctity of, and various threats to, the family. He voted just this year against the marriage-tax-penalty relief act, which would have given married couples a tax break.
As a "moderate," Lieberman has been credited with taking on the corruption of our culture with his criticism of violent portrayals in the arts. However, he has voted against banning the so-called partial birth abortion procedure his Democratic colleague Daniel Moynihan has called "infanticide" and 70 percent of the population opposes. If the incongruity of labeling Lieberman as a "moderate" has not yet been revealed, consider that the American Conservative Union gives him a zero percent rating while the liberal Americans for Democratic Action grants him a whopping 80 percent.
Paul Gigot of the Wall Street Journal pointed out that a "Republican" can be called a "moderate" regardless of his or her voting record, so long as the Republican is pro-choice. A Democrat is called a "moderate" if he or she departs from the party line in any way, shape or form. It is true, Lieberman has parted with his party's dogma regarding choice in education and has backed a school choice program for Washington.
The other issue being discussed is Lieberman's Judaism. Gore's courageous decision to choose a religious minority has easily tripped off almost every tongue. While we certainly share in the pride of this moment of accomplishment for Lieberman, a series of questions arise as to how an "observant Jew" feels about a ticket that actively courts the support of Al Sharpton.
We wonder how comfortable an "observant Jew" is on the ticket of a vice president whose administration has actively appeased Yasser Arafat and that refuses to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem despite a congressional mandate to do just that, a mandate Lieberman supported. Already, on "Larry King Live," Lieberman has withdrawn his support for moving the embassy at this time.
Putting a Jew on the Democratic ticket may, in fact, turn out to be more Machiavellian than courageous. A few Lieberman-Hillary Rodham Clinton events in New York may help to solve Hillary's "Jewish problem" in New York.
Without question, Lieberman is a decent and honorable man, and everyone in the Jewish community is justly proud not only of his past successes, but of his present nomination as well. However, this sense of pride does not mitigate the fact that on the key issues Lieberman's sometimes conservative rhetoric will now thoroughly give way to his wholehearted and full-throated support of Gore's positions. Where Lieberman's voting record showed some independence of thought, that independence will now be co-opted by Gore to conform to the Clinton-Gore record and Democratic Party orthodoxy. This is an ignominious ending to what, for a while, seemed like a propitious beginning.