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Election 2000: Gore to Name Sen. Leiberman as V.P. Running Mate

Aired August 7, 2000 - 7:13 a.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Just the beginning now, this debate over the top story that we have this morning, word that we're getting out of Nashville, Tennessee, that Al Gore has selected Senator Joseph Lieberman out of Connecticut to join him on the Democratic ticket.

Joining us now on the telephone, is our analyst Jeff Greenfield, who's going to give us some insight on this.

Jeff, thanks for getting up -- waking up on this one. What is this -- how does this strike you? what do you think?

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SR. ANALYST: I think of the choices that he had, it is probably the most -- the boldest. Because, quite frankly, as the Democratic National chair Ed Rendell said over the weekend, he's the first Jewish-American ever to be on the ticket. Not only that, he is an Orthodox Jew who takes, you know, takes the Sabbath, which is Saturday, so seriously, he never campaigns and never works.

Beyond that, it's bold because it is the clearest way he could have shown. almost, that he is trying to get some distance between himself and President Clinton. Joe Lieberman was the senator who stood on the floor of the Senate, after the Monica Lewinsky scandal, and publicly said to the president: This is not a private matter, as president, you have an obligation, in terms of moral leadership, and you have failed it. And I think that's part of what went on here.

Joe also -- Joe Lieberman -- forgive me, I was a law school classmate of his and it's hard, you know you're getting old when your classmates become vice presidential candidates. He also has, over the years, worked with Bill Bennett, the conservative, one-time secretary of education, about the media. He has been very, very critical of the media's role in glorifying gratuitous sex and violence. And so it is a less partisan choice then, say, a John Kerry of Massachusetts might have been.

HARRIS: But does this give the Gore ticket -- does it give him the -- I guess, the pizzazz that many were saying that he needed going into this past week?

GREENFIELD: Well, I don't know if it -- if what he needed was pizzazz in the sense of an electrifying speaker. Joe Lieberman is a fellow who is a very low-key speaker. What it does is to give it a kind of political breadth that a more conventional choice like a John Kerry or Evan Bayh, the senator from Indiana, would not have.

It certainly doesn't do anything for him in the traditional regional calculation, because he comes from Connecticut, and if there's one area where Al Gore should be doing OK, it's in New England. But in terms of what it says about Gore and an effort to reach beyond partisanship, it is a -- of the choices that he had, the most intriguing.

But I do think that the religion issue, whether we like it or not, is going to be a dominant theme of the coverage and analysis in the first day.

HARRIS: That is no doubt, that is a given. And given that, how do you think this is going to actually play out. We know that this going to, that that issue may not come up or hurt the ticket at all in Connecticut, where Senator Lieberman is from, but what about the rest of the country?

GREENFIELD: I couldn't, I don't know. I mean, I think one of the things that the Gore campaign is gambling on is the very accurate notion that, as a general rule, this is a less prejudiced, less xenophobic country, certainly, than it was when John Kennedy ran for president as the first Catholic.

There were post-election analyses of 1960 that concluded that Kennedy's religion had probably cost him a couple of million votes because there were people in some parts of the country, and of some beliefs who simply could not accept the idea of a Roman Catholic as president. And I suspect that there is lingering religious prejudice today. I have no idea how that plays out.

HARRIS: And there is a difference there, because Kennedy was going to be at the top of the ticket.

GREENFIELD: Certainly, yes.

HARRIS: And Lieberman here would not be.

GREENFIELD: Nope, no question about that. But I do think, this is one of those areas where we're not going to know. I'll make you another prediction which is less, shall I say, less serious, which is that the one place where Joe Lieberman's religion will be a factor is in the jokes of late night comedians.

I'm being quite serious, I mean you just know that Jay Leno and Dave Letterman and Bill Maher and Dennis Miller are going to just have field day with it. And in part, by the way, Leon, that demonstrates what I meant about, in a funny way, the less prejudiced nature of the American culture. That is, people feel comfortable enough, in some areas, to joke about that. The more serious question is, whether or not there are places, or among people for whom the idea of a national candidate who is not Christian is going to matter.

I just want to point out one other thing. So different is the notion of how we approach some political votes, that if you go to the upper Midwest, the states of Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, neither -- none of those states with heavy Jewish populations. Four of the six United States senators are Jewish, both United States senators from California. So, traditionally, the only Jewish politicians that succeeded came from pockets where there were very significant Jewish populations. This has changed, and I think that, you know, that we may discover that the election will not have much to do with this fact.

It certainly is a historical pick, no question about that. But I think this was a way of saying that the Gore campaign really felt it had to get some distance from the president. You saw at the convention last week, the Republican convention, how eager Dick Cheney and George Bush were to tie Al Gore to Clinton, even though Clinton has big approval ratings. Because, in the sense of dignity, decency, honor to the White House, those code words were used over and over again. Lieberman is a rather remarkable political figure who has an extraordinary reputation for probity, you know.

HARRIS: Well, let me ask you something about that, Jeff, since you bring up Dick Cheney's name. In some respects, do you see any parallels between the choice of Dick Cheney by George W. Bush and this choice of Lieberman by Gore?

GREENFIELD: Yes, I think that's a good point, Leon. I think the choice has to do with weight: in one sense, experiential weight with Dick Cheney, to balance off George Bush's lack of Washington experience; and if I can use this term, a kind of moral weight, to give Al Gore a sense of distance from what has happened with the Clinton administration, that everybody knows about and doesn't particularly admire.

Yes, I think -- and I also think it guarantees something else. this will be, the vice presidential debate is going to be one of the more serious, less demagogic, I think, on both sides, debates we've ever seen because both of these fellows are serious people. We know about Dick Cheney's experience in the Ford White House and as secretary of defense and a congressman.

Joe Lieberman's been a senator for 12 years, he was attorney general of Connecticut before that. He has a lifelong interest in politics. His nickname in law school was either "Senator" or "Governor," depending on what day it was. And I jokingly said, at one of the reunions that we had, I said we all knew Lieberman was going to be a senator, but who knew he'd be a respected senator?

No, it's a very good point that they both reached to people not for the kind of regional electoral strategy, you know, this guy can get me a state, but because they felt these candidates gave them something that they could not bring to the ticket themselves.

HARRIS: Well, you may be able to add one more nickname to that list now, "Veep."

GREENFIELD: Well, let's -- you know, I regard predictions like I regard winter colds, I'm not a big fan of them. But it certainly is an intriguing choice.

HARRIS: Well, it's going to make things a lot more interesting.

GREENFIELD: Yes.

HARRIS: Jeff Greenfield, we thanks much for your waking up bright and early for us, appreciate it.

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