Lieberman’s Presidential Bid Is Already Over
As an active member of the Southern California Jewish
community and a celebrity media consultant who has authored 12 books on communications,
it pains me to point out an unpleasant truth.
Despite the recent Gallup Poll showing Sen. Joseph Lieberman
leading the field of Democrats who have declared their 2004 presidential
candidacy, Lieberman isn’t going to win the Democratic nomination. His campaign
is over before it began.
Before Al Gore picked Lieberman as his vice presidential
running mate in the 2000 election, Lieberman’s reputation in the U.S. Senate
was as a conservative, sometimes more popular among the Senate Republican
leadership than that of his own party.
Lieberman was not beloved by the teachers’ unions, which disliked
his Senate votes in favor of Republican bills instituting school vouchers.
During the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Lieberman accused
President Clinton of “obstruction of justice … he has lied under oath,”
saying he’d be hard pressed to vote against any congressional censure short of
removal from office.
Lieberman attacked the Democratic Party’s sugar daddies in Hollywood
for putting too much sex and violence into the media. He even supported
Republicans exploring privatization of Social Security, the third-rail of
Democratic Party politics since it was institutionalized by Franklin Delano
Then the Connecticut senator showed his core principles
meant little the instant he joined the Gore campaign. Lieberman abandoned
almost every position out of step with the left wing of his party, reversing
himself on school vouchers, denouncing his own flirtations with Social Security
privatization and joining fellow Democrats gloating over Clinton’s complete
exoneration. He even attempted, unsuccessfully, cuddling up to Hollywood.
After the campaign, Lieberman returned only to opposing
media violence. In Hollywood, Lieberman is only a little more popular than
But even if Lieberman could run far enough to the left in
2004 to make the Democratic primary voters forget his ideological flip-flops, a
Lieberman presidential candidacy has more toxic problems.
To begin with, Lieberman is a terrible public speaker. His
voice is gravelly, his presentation academic and timid. Not to put too fine a point
on it, but Lieberman’s speeches sound like he’s kvetching all the time.
Far worse — and it pains me to say this more than anything
else — the complications that would ensue were a religious Jew elected
president of the United States would be daunting, both for a Jewish president
and world Jewry.
Islamic terrorists would vex U.S. relations with friendly
Islamic countries by targeting Israeli, Jewish and U.S.-friendly Arab
communities worldwide, knowing they could hold a Jewish American president’s
foreign policy hostage to their threats. The consequences of this vulnerability
could weaken the United States in the war against terror, in trade
negotiations, in energy dependence on oil producers and in the United Nations.
Should the United States experience another tragedy like
Sept. 11 or a worse terrorist attack from a weapon of mass destruction during a
Jewish presidency, the scapegoating from anti-Semites on both far left and far
right would cripple the American presidency. Support for Israel, solid since
1948, could come into serious question. For the first time in half a century,
anti-Semitism might become an acceptable part of political discourse in the
mainstream media. If that seems far out, consider the anti-Catholic sentiments
in the mainstream media following the priesthood’s sexual scandals.
Recall that during John F. Kennedy’s 1960 presidential
campaign, Kennedy, a Roman Catholic, was forced by persistent questions to
declare that his first allegiance was not to the Vatican. Is there any doubt
that Lieberman would have to swear that he would never place the survival of
Israel ahead of the interests of the United States?
All of these would be problems even if Lieberman didn’t have
to face off in November 2004 against a sitting president. Lieberman would be
running against President George W. Bush, who, despite late-night jokes, has
shown himself to be a savvy politician and an effective public speaker.
President Bush defied conventional wisdom by leading his
party to control of both houses of Congress during the 2002 off-year elections.
He has remained faithful to his core constituency, without allowing them to
manipulate him into losing the center, with examples including Bush chiding
Jerry Falwell in blaming gays for the Sept. 11 attacks and quietly encouraging
Trent Lott to abandon his position as Senate majority leader after Lott’s
racially clumsy remarks.
It’s possible that, despite a high approval rating, Bush
isn’t unbeatable in 2004. Certainly, his father managed to squander his popularity
following Gulf War I with his backing away from, “Read my lips, no new taxes!”
Should Bush lose his edge because of a weak economy or a bad
patch of road in Gulf War II, whoever steps up to take his place had better
have more original ideas and a more exciting presentation of them than
Otherwise, as Republican Bill Simon learned in the 2002
California governor’s race against Democrat Gray Davis, just because most of
the people think the incumbent did a lousy job, it isn’t enough to convince
them you can do any better. Â
Michael Levine is head of the entertainment publicity firm Levine Communications and author of “Guerrilla P.R. Wired” (McGraw-Hill, 2002).