Lieberman's St. Louis Angle? It's Really a Stretch.

Published the week of August 9-15, 2000

It is the longstanding tradition of this bureau -- dating back roughly 14 days -- to mine for a local angle in the selection of a vice-presidential nominee.

Regular readers may recall it was unearthed here that as defense secretary, Republican veep hopeful Dick Cheney angered local politicians of both parties by pulling the plug on McDonnell Douglas' $4.4 billion A-12 attack fighter, a move said to have caused 5,600 layoffs locally. Though in retrospect it seems to have been a perfectly sound decision by Cheney, it also provided a shameless opportunity to give 5,600 locals -- and their friends and family -- a fine reason to vote against Cheney and his former boss' son.

Now come the Democrats with Al Gore's running-mate choice, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.). This one's more difficult, because Lieberman was never defense secretary or anything of the sort, minimizing the even more shameless argument of "Unlike Mr. Cheney, Joseph Lieberman has never taken food off the tables of thousands of St. Louisans."

In fact, I found only one truly local angle, and it's as much of a snoozer as a presidential contest between, say, George W. Bush and Al Gore. Here it is (forget the drumroll):

In 1994, Lieberman publicly reported his income in campaign documents and listed one -- and only one -- instance of having received outside income. Yes, my fellow locals, that one instance was an expenses-paid overnight visit to St. Louis for a 1993 speech at a Hebrew academy here.

There is no report of Lieberman's speech in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch archives, nor was I able to reach academy officials for comment, so we'll have to assume it was a benign event. And it certainly didn't cost any of our citizens their jobs.

And you thought the Cheney thing was a stretch?

The Lieberman selection did have one obvious and locally related similarity to Bush's choice of Cheney: In both cases, the candidate edged out a highly touted St. Louisan who made the dreaded vice-presidential "short list" despite his consistent, public objections.

U.S. Rep. Richard Gephardt could hardly contain himself, calling Lieberman a "tremendous moral force" with the same sense of liberated enthusiasm that former U.S. Sen. Jack Danforth gave the Cheney selection. Indeed, Danforth crossed party lines to praise former colleague Lieberman as "a first-rate person, a very fine senator," and Danforth wasn't even on Gore's short list.

Personally, I think Danforth would have been a better choice than Cheney, and Gephardt would have been a better choice than Lieberman. Ah well, maybe Ralph Nader will snatch up St. Louis School Board member and perennial candidate-at-large Bill Haas, or perhaps Pat Buchanan can succeed where the Democratic Party failed by luring state Sen. Ted House (D-St. Charles) away from the 2nd District congressional race for a veep run.

OK, there's just no localizing this story.

Nationally speaking, Lieberman's selection seems to mirror the good-not-great initial response garnered by Cheney's. Though most opinion polls three months before an election are thoroughly worthless, it was interesting to note how similarly the public reacted -- or, really, didn't react -- to the vice-presidential selections.

CNN/USA Today found that 53 percent rated the Lieberman selection as excellent or good, statistically the same (within the margin of error) as the 55 percent rating for Cheney. Perhaps more significant was the 76 percent total who said Lieberman's selection made no difference in their vote, again quite comparable to the 72 percent who said the same about Cheney.

I wonder how a Cheney-Lieberman ticket would fare against a Bush-Gore ticket? That might be worth polling.

Indeed, the best unreported irony I could find while futilely searching for a St. Louis angle was this: In 1989, when the Dub's father nominated former Sen. John Tower (R-Texas) as defense secretary -- and the nomination was torched by Democrats over, of all things, issues of moral turpitude -- three Democratic senators were considered fence-sitters who could save Tower's skin.

One of those three was Lieberman, who met personally with President George Bush, indicated he was keeping an open mind and only at the end cast one of the decisive votes that doomed Tower. And who indirectly benefited from that vote?

Why, it would be Bush's next choice for defense secretary, Dick Cheney, who was confirmed easily with Lieberman's vote and many others.

Another blast from the past: With Cheney at the helm at Defense, the Bush administration battled desperately for congressional support of the Persian Gulf War. Their efforts succeeded with a narrow, mostly partisan 52-48 Senate vote, made possible by the defection of 10 members of the then-Democratic majority.

Two of the 10 Democratic swing votes: Sens. Al Gore and Joseph Lieberman. At least when Lieberman and Cheney shake hands at the start of the vice-presidential debates, they can do so sincerely.

Much will be made of that unfortunate Persian Gulf War vote, along with Lieberman's troubling support of school vouchers, the issue most reflective of his devoutness as an Orthodox Jew. But it's much like the story in 1992, where the choice was between New Democrat and No Democrat, with Clinton (who received a key early endorsement from Lieberman in Connecticut) moving his party far enough to the right to win.

If the decision were strictly between Lieberman and Cheney for president, the choice would be dramatic on abortion rights, the environment and civil rights, among other issues, with Lieberman being the progressive choice, Cheney the conservative one. The same is true at the top of the ticket: This isn't Kennedy vs. Goldwater or Nixon vs. Humphrey or McGovern, but those who say there is no choice are overlooking the likely upcoming vacancies on the U.S. Supreme Court and many other pivotal issues.

Lieberman's voting record may be conservative compared with those of most Democrats, but it's well to the left of all the Republicans'. On the other hand, Cheney voted far to the right even of fellow Republicans as a member of the House.

There's plenty to choose from here.

Just don't try to localize it.

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