Joe Lieberman: A Righteous Jew
I first met Sen. Joe Lieberman when
he was a Yale sophomore and I was a Duke senior, working as a cub reporter
for ''The Stamford Advocate'' in the summer of 1961. He recruited me and 50
other college students to tutor 100 black, inner city youth, something then
Joe had joined the NAACP at Yale
because he thought race relations were ''the most important issue in the
country.'' He asked why only about one percent of Yale students were Negro,
and found out that few had applied. In Stamford, he asked questions at inner
city churches, concluding ''The kids did not have anyone to look up to.''
Joe did not plan to go into
teaching, but law and ''maybe politics.'' However, he said, ''We can teach
these kids, if nothing else, that education really means something. They see
us as people who have made it people who are only a few years older.''
He was inspirational and such a
pioneer that I was moved to write my first by-lined story about his no-name,
teach anyone-anything school. It was so unprecedented, AP picked up the
story and sent it out nationally. Few noticed. Those were the tense days of
the Berlin Airlift.
This week, his four decades of
quiet, principled leadership paid off as he was asked by Al Gore to run as
his Vice President.
What most attracted attention was
the fact he was the first Jew to be nominated for such a high office. What's
more, he is a rare observant, modern Orthodox Jew for whom the Sabbath is
holy. About half of the nation's 6 million Jews are not religious. Of those
who are, 42 percent are Reform Jews, very liberal in their reading of the
Torah, 38 percent are Conservative, or middle-of-the-road, and only 7
percent are Orthodox, who obey all 600 laws of Scripture.
Only a quarter of the Orthodox wear
the black hats and garb as a way to separate themselves from the modern
culture, something like the Amish. But modern Orthodox will refuse to ride
in cars or to work on Saturday. They walk to the synagogue.
Joe has shunned campaigning or
purely political activities on Saturday. He declined to attend the
Democratic convention that nominated him in 1988 for the U.S. Senate, but
sent a videotape of an acceptance speech! He has avoided most Saturday
sessions of the Senate, but has voted 75 times on the Sabbath on important
matters of health or life, such as whether to enter the Persian Gulf War. He
and Al Gore were two of only 10 Democratic Senators voting yes. On such
occasions, he walks from his Georgetown home to the Senate, four miles away.
In his most famous speech, Joe
denounced President Clinton over the Lewinsky scandal, though Clinton had
been a friend since 1970, who helped him campaign for the state senate. When
the President acknowledged having an ''inappropriate'' sexual relationship
with Monica, Joe said, ''Such behavior is not just inappropriate, it is
immoral. And it is harmful for it sends a message of what is acceptable
behavior'' to our children. ''Something very sad and sordid has happened in
American life when I cannot watch the news on television with my 10-year-old
Even worse was Clinton's
premeditated ''deception'' that ''undercut the efforts of millions of
American parents who are naturally trying to instill in our children the
value of honesty.''
Yet ultimately, he said the
misconduct ''does not justify making him the first president to be ousted
from office.'' That vote was political and hypocritical.
Joe has taken conservative
positions that make him the Republican's favorite Democrat, such as
supporting tuition vouchers that would give parents public subsidies to
attend parochial schools. He voted to install electronic devices that permit
the blocking of TV programs parents find offensive. He and former Education
Secretary William Bennett have handed out ''Silver Sewer Awards'' to the
producers of sexually explicit and violent films, music, TV, and video
games. However, critics note he owned stock in some of those companies.
Far more questionable are his votes
in favor of partial birth abortion, virtual infanticide. ''We agree
with the prolife position,'' said Orthodox Rabbi Norman Lamm, president of
Yeshiva University. ''Abortion on demand is wrong. It is permissible or
mandated if there is a threat to the life of the mother, and if it is within
40 days of conception. The attitude Lieberman has taken is wrong.''
But Lamm was proud of Joe's
denunciation of Clinton. ''He became the prophet standing up to the high and
mighty, like Nathan scolded King David for an ethical infraction.''
I predict that one day Joe
Lieberman will run for president, and be elected.
Copyright 2000 Michael J. McManus.