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Meet my good friend Al Gore

( -- Al Gore should look so good. Joe Lieberman did his running mate duties Wednesday night at the Democratic National Convention like a man exquisitely comfortable in his own skin. A nice-hearted man, quick with a joke. A good guy.

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This political speech, as it rolled off Lieberman's quick-to-smile lips, could have passed for a late-night comedy monologue (maybe on PBS), studded as it was with corny one-liners lifted by Lieberman's soft drollery. This one for wife Hassadah, who introduced him: "There's an old saying that behind every successful man... is a surprised mother-in-law." Laughter. Very Jewish. Funny guy.

And between the jokes, Lieberman was nice enough to make a speech. If its style put some fear of flopping in his delivery-challenged running mate, it surely drew its substance from the more left-leaning angels of Lieberman's New Democrat nature. After a Tuesday night that set Gore far apart from his left wing, Lieberman planted himself most strenuously on ground the New and Old Democrats share -- tolerance, diversity, prosperity for all -- but was careful to bring Gore's phrasebook along. Debt repayment. Middle-class tax cuts. Affordable health care for every child.

Environment -- clean it. Heath care -- broaden it. Education -- fund it. The surplus -- pay down the debt, and if there's a tax cut, skew it to the middle class. There a slightly labyrinthine supply-side joke: "Their tax plan operates under that old theory that the best way to feed the birds is to feed more oats to the horse." ("Think about it," Lieberman said with a grin, and most of the audience had to.) Prosperity -- expand it. Even campaign finance reform: "It is only Al Gore and not George Bush who will send the McCain-Feingold bill to Congress and sign it when it's passed." (McCain, to whom Lieberman gave both a nod and a prayer, continues to see his coattails tugged in every direction.)

With a wonk for a running mate, Lieberman did not need either to linger or to specify. For the most part, these were classic Democratic talking points, promises with plenty of size and sentiment but little voters could set their watches to. No, Lieberman's main thematic pupose as rhetorical setup man was, as it will be all through the fall, to be a watchably good and likable man, and make Al Gore one by association. In that he showed much promise.

One of the journalistic successes Gore has netted in the last two weeks is the supposition that while he may be unscrupulous in the cause of winning, and stultifying in the campaign spotlight, he's a sincere public servant once in office and a good fellow off the stump. Such musings were more popular long ago, before the Buddhists and the Bradley primary, and they are quietly resurfacing now, with a perhaps civic-minded graciousness on the part of the pundit class.

Meet dinner-table Al -- that was the purpose of Wednesday night. Joe Lieberman, this good and funny man, admires Al Gore. Afterward, we heard that Tommy Lee Jones, whom everybody likes, thinks of Al Gore as his brother. After that, Karenna Gore Schiff -- pretty and pretty well- spoken, but with those unfortunate Gore family hand gestures -- told us she loves Al Gore as her father. And then Al Gore himself, in the evening's big surprise, dashed out on stage and gave his daughter a big hug. It is a pleasure to report that he was grinning like a human.

Of course, nobody actually said they just plain liked him. Which may well be the sentiment that those undecided voters, whom Lieberman, at point, addressed directly, have to acquire before they can bear to elect Al Gore as their next president.

Thurdsay night, Gore's going to have to handle that one himself.

Copyright © 2000 Time Inc.


Thursday, August 17, 2000


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