Al Gore’s choice of Senator Joseph Lieberman as the Democratic vice-presidential candidate is interesting on two scores, both summed up in the phrase, "observant Jew." We do not dismiss political calculation in the selection of Lieberman-his early and sharp criticism of Bill Clinton’s behavior will help distance Gore from the errant president, and his centrist, even conservative views, may appeal to independent voters. Even so, the symbolic importance of a Jewish running mate has been widely welcomed, and rightly.
Lieberman’s nomination has been compared to the ascendancy of John F. Kennedy in 1960. It is in some respects an apt comparison, but there is a significant contrast to be noted as well. Like Kennedy, the Lieberman choice is a sign that a religious group formerly discriminated against and regarded with suspicion and even contempt has joined the American mainstream. Of course, it is not the first, or necessarily the most important sign of Jewish presence in public life. Lieberman has been preceded by Supreme Court justices, cabinet members, and ambassadors who were or are Jewish, just as Kennedy’s co-religionists preceded him. That should not detract from the significance of the Lieberman choice. Insofar as a vice president is a president-in-waiting, Gore has offered American voters the chance for a breakthrough in potentially opening the presidential office to a Jew.