An Amazing Adventure: Joe and Hadassah's Personal Notes on the 2000 Campaignby Joseph I. Lieberman, Hadassah Lieberman
An Amazing Adventure is a groundbreaking memoir, the personal recollections of Senator Joe Lieberman and his wife, Hadassah, of their 2000 vice presidential campaign. There has never been such a frank account of the American way of running for national office. The Liebermans' voices alternate throughout the book as they describe the excitement, their sense of the honor of being chosen, the extraordinary and sometimes exhausting demands, and the satisfactions and joys of the hard-fought campaign they waged as a team.
From the second they find out that Joe has been chosen by Al Gore as his running mate, the Liebermans' lives are drastically changed -- privacy vanishes as political handlers take over. Joe and Hadassah recount the excruciating vetting process, the exhilaration of the Democratic National Convention, the tension of the debates, and finally, the drama of Election Day and of the contentious weeks that followed.
Thrilled to be running in a national campaign that they regarded as immensely important to the national purpose, and profoundly moved by the audiences that came to see and hear them, the Liebermans nevertheless admit that it was a complicated and demanding experience. They describe its ups and downs in personal, frank, and witty ways.
Woven throughout this inspirational but cautionary tale are the Liebermans' opinions, including their take on Joe's being the first Jewish vice presidential candidate and on Hadassah's debut to a national public as a first-generation American and child of Holocaust survivors.
An honest, high-spirited, revealing, and ultimately optimistic book from the candidate and his wife.
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During 2000, someone told me that in the heat of a national campaign there are only two moods among campaign workers:
1. We're going to lose.
2. What job do I want in the administration?
In September 2000, the résumés were being polished. The Bush campaign had stumbled in the wake of our success at the convention. Bush's double-digit lead had evaporated after the Democratic National Convention, and even his negatives had risen above Gore's -- 39 percent vs. 29 percent for Al, according to one poll. "We let [Gore] come back to life," griped one Republican strategist. "It was a great blunder."
Not only was Bush having trouble getting back on his feet, Gore was indefatigable (and so, may I add, was I).
We campaigned for twenty-four hours straight over Labor Day -- from Philadelphia to Flint, to Tampa, to Toledo, to Detroit. Bush, on the other hand, seemed to be working half as hard. Every time we turned around he was heading back to his Texas ranch for another weekend of R&R. A senior Gore staffer joked that while Al traveled with a "football," the briefcase containing the codes for a nuclear launch, Bush's aides also carried a "football" for their boss -- it contained Bush's pillow.
Bush seemed testy and insecure. He kept mangling words. A microphone was left open and he was overheard describing Adam Clymer of The New York Times to Dick Cheney as "a major league asshole," to which Cheney responded, "Oh yeah, big time." And he got bogged down in a debate over presidential debates. When Bush complained to reporters, "Debates suck the air out of the campaign," it made him look as if he were trying to duck being compared to Al Gore, who was known to be a great debater.
Somewhere around the third week of September, Bush snapped awake. Some observers gave Laura Bush credit for shaking her husband and his campaign out of its stupor. I don't know if that's the case or not. I do know that the Republicans launched a strong counterattack.
Up until that point, Bush's campaign was mostly directed against Bill Clinton, promising to "restore honor and dignity" to the White House. But Al Gore had stood before the convention and declared, "We're entering a new time. We're electing a new president. And I stand here tonight as my own man." Now Bush had to broaden his attack and go more directly after Gore. The Republicans didn't stop their anti-Clinton rhetoric. They just added a series of new attacks that were intended to tarnish Al's appeal and credibility, and mine.
At a speech in Green Bay, Wisconsin, on September 28, Bush declared, "The vice president was seated right behind Bill Clinton at the State of the Union when the president declared, 'The era of big government is over.' Apparently, the message never took....He offers a big federal spending program to nearly every single voting bloc in America. He expands entitlements without reforms to sustain them."
This was Bush's new refrain: Beware! Al Gore is a big government liberal in the guise of a New Democrat.
He was wrong. Gore's record was full of fiscal responsibility and government efficiency, but Bush had found a vulnerability nonetheless in the Gore campaign, whose strategy was to beat Bush on individual issues -- prescription drugs, Social Security, Medicare, HMO reform. To turn the spotlight on Bush's vulnerability -- lack of specificity and weakness with facts -- our campaign made a lot of detailed proposals which allowed Bush to paint Gore as a candidate who had a government answer to every problem.
That's not all the Republicans did to Al Gore in September.
During a stump speech on prescription drug prices in Tallahassee, Florida, on August 28, Al said that Lodine, the arthritis medicine used by Tipper's mother, was the same medicine used to treat the Gores' dog, Shiloh, and that the drug was three times more expensive to buy for his mother-in-law than for his dog.
Three weeks later, The Boston Globe published an article pointing out inaccuracies in Al's statement, but also concluding that "Gore's overall message was accurate -- that many brand-name drugs are much more expensive for people than for pets." The Republicans immediately flooded reporters with faxes of the Globe article and e-mails questioning Al's credibility. The media ate it up.
Introducing her husband, Dick Cheney, at rallies during the following days, Lynne Cheney told the cheering crowds, "I once wrote a book called Telling the Truth, and I am sending an autographed copy to the vice president." The Bush campaign hired a college student to climb into a dog suit, hung a sign around his neck that read "Lodine the Canine," and sent him to Gore events.
At the same time, after a very smooth and positive entry into the race, I began to come in for my share of political flak. The Bush campaign was circulating misleading information to the media that I had changed my position on Social Security, privatization, and affirmative action. I had not. The Anti-Defamation League's Abe Foxman intensified his criticism of my expressions of faith, complaining that I was "hawking religion." Then I appeared on an African American radio network and was asked whether I would meet with Louis Farrakhan, which a few leaders in the African American community whom I greatly respected had urged me to do. They said his bout with prostate cancer had changed him, and I should seize this moment to reach out to him. I said that although I had been deeply offended by Farrakhan's racist and anti-Semitic statements in the past, I was open to meeting with him on the chance that he might have changed. That brought another wave of criticism from the Republicans, the ADL, and some newspaper columnists.
Next, Bill Bennett, my comrade-in-arms in the culture wars, accused me of going soft on Hollywood after a Beverly Hills fund-raiser where I had said I would never support censorship of Hollywood but would continue to "nudzh" them to produce better entertainment with less violence and less sex. Bennett criticized my use of the Yiddish verb "nudzh" as too gentle. My response was that, based on long experience being "nudzhed" -- particularly by members of my family -- I would define the verb as "persistent criticism until one changes one's behavior." That seemed exactly like what he and I had been doing to the entertainment industry. In any case, I did not benefit from the exchange.
Within our campaign, all this caused an outbreak of anxiety at the end of September as we began to slip in the polls. But that dissipated when Bush was badgered into accepting the challenge to debate Gore -- in fact, to debate him three times. Great, we thought, we'll win those straying voters back when we get to the debates in October. Al is an excellent debater, and there is no way the governor of Texas can gain comparable confidence with the facts a president faces in such a short time. As for me, I'd had my share of campaign debates, and I'd learned a lot from them. In 1988, my debate performances had been crucial to my narrow win over Senator Weicker. I had proved I could get in the ring with the pro and not only hold my own, but land some punches. That, to our surprise, was what Bush ended up doing to Gore in 2000.
The one vice presidential debate would be held on October 5 at the Norton Center for the Arts at Centre College, a small liberal arts school in Danville, Kentucky. Although the stakes were higher in the three presidential debates, I naturally wanted to do as well as I possibly could to help the ticket.
If it takes a village to raise a child, it apparently takes an army to prepare a vice presidential debater, or so I learned in 2000. Jonathan Sallet was our general. He'd worked on Al Gore's debate training teams in 1992 and 1996. ("I hold the American political record for the most days lodged in a vice presidential debate camp," says Jonathan.) Sheryl Wilkerson, a Washington attorney, left the FCC early in September to work with Jon, heading up a team that did debate research, and put together an issues book for me. It was big. It not only contained the basic papers on the widest range of issues, but it also included every position I had ever taken on any issue and the Gore campaign's position on all the issues.
It wasn't enough to simply be on track with the Gore campaign. I needed to be able to defend and advance each and every position the campaign espoused, and to do so in a short, crisp, affirmative way.
The preparation was more extensive than anything I had ever experienced. But remember, the debate would be the third and final big moment of opportunity for me to make a real difference in the campaign.
Beginning in September -- even before we knew whether the debates would occur and, if so, where and when -- we crammed tutorial sessions into those rare times on planes or in hotel rooms when I had a few hours free. So I carried my briefing book everywhere. Jonathan seized chunks of time in the strangest places, suddenly appearing at a hotel where we were staying in Miami, just as the sun set on Saturday, for three evening hours of debate prep. Another time he worked his way into the schedule on a Friday afternoon in Chicago for two hours before the sun set. That time he brought a mock opponent and we had a practice debate.
Meanwhile, we worked together to strategize and analyze my opponent's vulnerabilities. Should I take on Cheney or focus my attacks on Bush? We studied tapes of Cheney's television appearances and analyzed ones from my Senate campaigns. I was surprised at how aggressive I'd been in my 1988 debates in the Senate race with Senator Lowell Weicker. A campaign strategist -- probably Carter Eskew, maybe the late Bob Squier -- said to me back then, You know, you've got to convince the voters of Connecticut to fire Weicker and hire you. I'd clearly taken their advice to heart -- and it had worked.
I am not by nature a combative person, but I can definitely be a fighter when I have something to fight for. In this case, I was ready to get aggressive again in the debate with Cheney, because the differences between his record and mine and Al's were so stark. But surprisingly, the pollsters and consultants counseled otherwise. Their survey and focus group results were clear. The public doesn't want another antagonistic debate. They're tired of nastiness; they crave a civil face-off. Good enough, I said to them, I wasn't planning to be mean-spirited or personally abusive, but I assume I should call attention to Cheney's far right record when he was in Congress; you'll want me to tell people he voted against Head Start? Against a free Nelson Mandela resolution? No, they said. The public feels that all happened too long ago. Even if we believe it's relevant to what kind of vice president he'd be? No, the pollsters said, if you throw old votes at him, the public will react negatively. (I was amused remembering how Lowell Weicker had responded to my closing the lead he had on me with a few weeks left in the campaign: he attacked votes I had cast seventeen years before. It almost worked.)
Along the way, we watched and analyzed good televised debates (bad ones, too) in national campaigns. It helped. Gore versus Quayle in 1992. I was told how upset President Clinton had been with Al because he felt Al had failed to stand up sufficiently for him against Quayle's attacks in that debate. That was worth remembering.
Gore versus Kemp. There, Gore tended to repeat catchphrases a bit often, we noticed, but he was nevertheless very disciplined, very effective. We watched Bentsen turn that wonderful line on Quayle, "Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy, Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy." And in pained silence we watched a tape from 1988, when Mike Dukakis, who opposed capital punishment, gave a wooden, canned response to CNN's Bernard Shaw's provocative and direct question: If someone raped and killed your wife, would you change your position and advocate the death penalty for her attacker? Shaw was scheduled to moderate the debate between me and Dick Cheney. God only knew what he was cooking up for us.
On Sunday evening, October 1, with four days to go before the debate, I left the campaign trail for final, intensive debate training. Danville, Kentucky, is a lovely little town in the beautiful bluegrass country, ninety minutes south of Lexington. The campaign rented an old mansion owned by Eastern Kentucky University in the isolated hills of the nearby town of Richmond. Jon called this our debate camp, but because I'm a boxing fan, I said it felt like a boxer's training camp. So someone quickly made up a T-shirt for me that said "Fighting Joe Lieberman" on the front and "The Champ" on the back. They even found a book called When Boxing Was a Jewish Sport, by Allen Bodner, with tales of Benny Leonard, Barney Ross, "Battling" Levinsky, and "Slapsie" Maxie Rosenbloom -- all of whom boxed before my time. My boxing heroes were Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, Sugar Ray Robinson, and, of course, Muhammad Ali.
They secretly tried to get Muhammad Ali to be there when Joe arrived in Kentucky, because that's where Ali's from. He was willing, but he was returning from the Olympics in Sydney, Australia, and there was no way to make it happen in time. It would have really thrilled Joe; he's such a fan of Ali's.
I was tired. The fatigue I had suppressed on the campaign trail over the preceding weeks pushed its way out when I stopped to prepare for the debate in Kentucky and I had a lot of work to jam into just a few days. There was quite a large crowd of people -- probably too many -- in the house, available for research or any other need that might arise, but Sallet limited who could have contact with me. He didn't want, and I certainly didn't want, fifteen people making suggestions simultaneously. Camp rules were strict. Practice sessions were tightly organized, with a premium on giving me time to prepare by myself. Even Hadassah knew it would be better if she went off campaigning elsewhere in the daytime and returned at night.
Matt was there all week, and he was worried about Joe, although he didn't let on. But he told me he took a look at Joe and thought, Oh, my God. Where is he? What have they done with my father? Matt had never seen Joe so worn out. He said, "The light had gone out of his eyes. His brain was all there -- but his soul wasn't coming through."
Matt wondered whether "the preparation had reached the point of diminishing returns. Dad is a very disciplined, very hard worker, and the preparation was feeding that part of him. And certainly there's a lot you can prepare, and there's a lot worth preparing and brushing up on. But was all this necessary?"
I was tired, and during some of the practice sessions I was tight, and I knew it. But when it was over, I was more prepared for this debate than I had ever been for anything like it in my life. And I was very clear about what I wanted to accomplish. Our goals were straightforward:
Remind voters of all the progress and prosperity of the last eight years, which our ticket was obviously best able to continue. Make clear the difference between Bush-Cheney and us on how we would use the new federal surplus responsibly to cut middle-class taxes, make investments in education and health care, and pay off the national debt.
Remind voters of our ticket's commitment to traditional moral values; reemphasize my roots, my faith, my values and Al's. Some of the characteristics that had led Al to select me as his running mate were getting lost in the campaign crossfire. We needed to reestablish that these values were at the heart of everything he and I planned to do.
Defang Cheney in what would presumably be his attack mode; and deflect and defend against all attempts to criticize Gore personally or to separate us as a team.
A few weeks before the debate, Al had said to me, "You know what Cheney's going to do during the debate, don't you?"
"What?" I asked.
"He's going to attack me. I hope you're ready."
Being a bit devilish, I said, "You mean at this big moment of my public life in a vice presidential debate, I've got to spend all my time defending you?"
Al was quiet for a second or two -- and then he laughed heartily.
Al Gore had pretty much set a new standard for debate preparation in 1992 and 1996. At his debate camp they'd constructed a set that replicated the actual setting for the debate, down to the placement of the cameras. I was reluctant to go that far. Still, Sallet and company determined the measurement of the half-moon table at which we'd sit with CNN's Bernard Shaw, and they copied the chairs we'd be sitting in, so it would feel as familiar as possible when I walked out on that stage.
Monday night before the real debate on Thursday, we held the first of our practice debates. Jonathan kept the crowd small. Bob Barnett, my friend and lawyer, happens to be the Cal Ripken of political debate. His first mock vice presidential debate was in 1976, when he was part of the team that prepped Fritz Mondale for his debate with Bob Dole. Barnett worked with Mondale again in 1980, and in 1984 he ran the training for Geraldine Ferraro's debate with George Herbert Walker Bush. In 1988 he was a member of the team training Dukakis against Bush, again, and in 1992 he played Bush in at least twenty prep debates with Bill Clinton. In 1996, Barnett's wife, CBS correspondent Rita Braver, was covering the White House, so Bob had to recuse himself. But in 2000 he was back in a big way: as a member of Hillary Rodham Clinton's team, he played her opponent, Representative Rick Lazio, and in my camp he was Dick Cheney.
In that first practice, my ego took an early beating.
Barnett's Cheney was brilliant -- and shockingly well-informed. No matter what question the moderator threw at him, he nailed it. I had a moment of panic, then I looked across the mock debate table and realized that, of course, they had given Bob the questions! And he had his five-inch-thick briefing book in front of him. In it was everything Cheney had ever said, voted on, or done, all of it broken down into fifty-three categories. That Cheney would be aggressive and conservative seemed a given, so in each practice Bob played him with "varying degrees of negativity," as Stan Greenberg put it. Together we practiced every conceivable format and answered every question our team could think up.
On Tuesday, October 3, we had our daily practice debate early in the evening, then headed downstairs to the rathskeller of the old Kentucky mansion, where we watched the first debate between Al Gore and George W. Bush. I totally misread the debate. Because I was focused on the substance of the arguments -- not whether or not Al sighed or whether he came off as condescending -- I thought he did really well. He clearly was better prepared, had a better grasp of the facts, and in contrast, Bush looked inadequate to me. And that more or less was what I told reporters as the campaign kept me up until 2:00 A.M. doing postdebate analysis for a few networks and many local television stations across the country.
What I failed to appreciate was that the commentators had so lowered the bar for Bush that as long as he didn't make a major mistake, they would regard his performance as an accomplishment. Nor did I understand why Gore's mannerisms would become such an issue. And none of us were prepared for how aggressively the Bush people would attack Gore after the debate for even the slightest stray comments. "People have taken some misstatements and turned them into something mythic," a senior Gore adviser remarked afterward.
Gore would have two more chances; his next debates were scheduled for October 17 and October 27. But before that, I was up. The Gore campaign sent a small cavalry of its top consultants to Kentucky for last minute coaching. So, as Stan Greenberg put it, "early early early" the morning after the first Gore-Bush debate, an exhausted Greenberg, Eskew, Shrum, and Tad Devine boarded a plane for Kentucky. In retrospect, most would regret it. The Bush camp had been quick to attack Gore in its postdebate spin, and the next day it started running a sarcastic TV ad called "Trust," in which Bush was presented as a man who keeps his word, while Al was run down as a man who does not. It would have been wiser to keep the team in Nashville to coordinate the counterattack.
They did get to attend my best and last practice. I was more comfortable and confident. In response to an early question, I managed to work in a joke someone had prepared about the Gores' poor arthritic dog, Shiloh. Of Barnett's "Cheney" -- after he attacked Gore -- I said, "He's not only an attack dog, he actually attacked a dog." Jonathan had packed the house so I could get used to a live audience, and the room rocked with laughter. I never got to use the joke in the real debate. In retrospect, I think that was fortunate. It doesn't seem so funny now.
I felt good; I felt ready. But I badly needed a solid night's sleep, and the campaign had asked Hadassah to appear on a few network television shows the next morning. She'd have to get up at 5:30 A.M. It was unthinkable that we would sleep in separate bedrooms, but how could she get up without waking me so early on my big day? The solution: Heather Picazio would tiptoe into our bedroom and squeeze Hadassah's big toe until she got up -- all very quietly. Heather worried all night she would accidentally squeeze my toe. Fortunately for all of us, she didn't.
It's the evening of the debate and we're in the hold behind the stage at Newlin Hall in the Norton Center for the Arts at Centre College in Danville. There's been little to do all day except wrap up loose ends and stay alert. Earlier, Michael Sheehan, a speech coach who had given me some helpful pointers in Los Angeles, arrived and offered last minute advice. Brighten up and grin more broadly, he said, because the camera takes away about a quarter of your smile and you can look sour even when you don't mean to. Gore's national security adviser, Leon Fuerth, carefully fed me the name of the incoming president of Yugoslavia -- Vojislav Kostunica (Kos-tu'-ni-cha). I practiced it until it rolled off my tongue. In Belgrade, reformers were storming the ramparts, and Slobodan Milo sevi´c would be driven out in a matter of days. George W. Bush had badly bobbled a Serbia question in his first debate with Gore. There was no way a question on Yugoslavia would fail to be asked tonight.
The kids are all here backstage, as is my mother, my sisters, Hadassah's brother, and their spouses. "Let's sing something," I say, and Matt, with his big, rich voice, starts in:
This little light of mine, I'm going to let it shine.
This little light of mine, I'm going to let it shine....
We all dive in, "Let it shine! Let it shine! Let it shiiiiiine!" Our staff is used to such spontaneous outbursts from the singing Liebermans -- the Von Trapps of American politics, as Becca says. Becca later told me she thinks Matt picked the song on purpose to subliminally remind me to "turn the light back on" in my eyes, the light he feared had been dimmed with exhaustion. Matt doesn't remember why he picked the song; it just came to him. And what a joyous, uplifting spiritual it is. If I wasn't pumped for the debate before, I am now!
The instant I walked out onto the stage and sat down, whatever anxiety I had floated away. Why? Probably because the expectation was over. I had entered the ring and knew I had trained hard and was ready. And I knew what I wanted to do.
I had worked hard that week to prepare an opening statement that would set a tone for the debate. After thanking our hosts and my family, I said, "My eighty-five-year-old mom gave me some good advice about the debate earlier today. She said, 'Sweetheart,' as she is prone to call me, 'remember, be positive and know that I will love you no matter what your opponent says about you.' Mom, as always, that was both reassuring and wise. I am going to be positive tonight. I'm not going to indulge in negative personal attacks. I'm going to talk about the issues that I know matter to the people of this country: education, health care, retirement security, and moral values. I'm going to describe the plan that Al Gore and I have for keeping America's prosperity going and making sure that it benefits more of America's families, particularly the hardworking middle-class families who have not yet fully benefited from the good times we've had. And Bernie, I'm going to explain tonight how we're going to do all this and remain fiscally responsible."
It was Dick Cheney's turn, and he surprised me, because one of the first things out of his mouth was, "And I, too, want to avoid any personal attacks." Where the presidential debate two days before had been acrimonious and noticeably tense, Cheney and I had both decided to strike a more civil tone. My opponent had shelved his dour and sometimes sour demeanor; he was reasonable in manner, conversational, even modestly comic. Newsweek later reported that on the morning of the debate, the Bush campaign pollster Matthew Dowd had briefed the Bush team and had urged Cheney to back off on any attacks at the debate. But what about Gore's "credibility"? Cheney had asked. "Couldn't I bring it up?"
"I wouldn't go personal," Dowd had replied. In other words, the Republican pollsters had found the same public mood that our pollsters had, which encouraged Cheney and me to have a good, substantive, civilized debate.
Toward the end, Bernie Shaw raised a pointed question that touched on the charges Republicans had leveled against me. He asked Cheney: "Have you noticed a contradiction or hypocritical shift by your opponent on positions and issues since he was nominated?"
To this, Cheney almost pleaded, "Boy, we've been trying to keep this on a high plane, Bernie."
So there were no fireworks. Every once in a while, there was a snappy comeback. When you are preparing for a national debate, your staff puts together a notebook of one-liners. I know Gore had one, as did Bush and Cheney. I had one, but most of the lines felt inappropriate to this debate, and the one time I used one, Cheney came back with a funnier line.
So for the most part we engaged in a thoughtful exchange of ideas. We tackled the surplus, tax cuts, education, inequality in women's pay, abortion, the former Yugoslavia, when to deploy troops in the Middle East, Iraq, energy strategy, oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Social Security, gay rights, and more in a very substantive hour and a half.
Cheney and I disagreed on most issues, but we managed to disagree without being disagreeable.
And every now and then, they surprised everyone -- by agreeing! When Bernie Shaw asked them about gay marriage, their answers weren't canned rhetoric programmed to please one interest group or another. What the voters saw were two men, from traditional backgrounds, who were trying to come to terms, in an open and tolerant fashion, with a controversial question in a changing world.
I was surprised when Bernie Shaw declared the debate over. The hour and a half had passed so quickly. And I was ecstatic. I had made the points I wanted to make on every question; I knew we'd had an interesting exchange; I thought we'd both done well. Tad Devine and Stan Greenberg told me later that night that they sat with a checklist of goals, points they hoped I would make, and I made them all.
What I have to say may sound like the words of a wife, but, really, they're the words of an observer. What is interesting about Joe is that he has a way of making people look good and feel comfortable. He brings out the best in people. Sitting there, I looked over at Matt and I could see him start to tear up a little because, as he said when it was over, "My dad was back. He'd been gone during the debate training, but he was back tonight and he was wonderful and it was a relief."
Al and Tipper called, and they were cheering with excitement. Al said, "You did just great; you did everything I could have wanted. I couldn't have been prouder of you."
We were flying high. We left the auditorium for a hot, screaming, exultant headquarters rally sponsored by the Kentucky Democratic Party and then went to a quieter but equally upbeat reception for some of my biggest supporters who had flown in from around the country.
The response from the press and the public was outstanding. The Washington Post called the debate "serious, well-informed, substantive, grown-up" and added, "Maybe the presidential tickets are upside down. The country might face a less troubling choice if Dick Cheney and Joseph Lieberman were the presidential candidates...."
What you need to realize is this: Because he was a two-term senator, much was expected of Joe -- and he totally lived up to everyone's expectations. As for Dick Cheney, he was someone who had been out of government for a long time and was widely seen as a hard-nosed conservative. This thoughtful Cheney surpassed expectations, so he gained a lot from the debate, too.
It goes without saying that there were commentators who managed to find fault. Veteran columnist Mary McGrory complained that I had overdone my loyalty to Gore. "Lieberman was...lost in the mists of sycophancy...," she wrote. "He was not the free spirit hailed by the media. He was a composite called 'Al-Gore-and-I.'"
But most of the pundits and editorial writers praised Cheney and me for the open, respectful exchange of ideas and opinions. "What viewers did see was both the seriousness and the dry wit that define both men, " said The New York Times. We proved that political debates don't have to be all attacks or all sound bites; we treated the voters with respect by respecting the importance of the issues. I'm tremendously proud of the debate. I felt, and will always feel, that we made a real and lasting contribution that night.
The next day, on a campaign plane, reporters asked Cheney about what a Washington Post reporter called "an increasingly direct assault on Gore's truthfulness by some of Cheney's surrogates, including his wife." Cheney snarled back, ripping into Al's "credibility problem" and going one step further. The U.S. military, Cheney charged, "is clearly worse off today than it was eight years ago." (It was an assertion that I recalled proudly a year later when that same military won a stunning victory against terrorism in Afghanistan.)
And me? After a postdebate "victory" lap around the increasingly critical state of Florida, and a wonderful family Sabbath in Washington, our campaign announced on Sunday that I would soon be leaving for a "Failed Leadership Tour" of Texas. My mission: To call attention to the serious wrongs George W. Bush had done to Texas as governor.
In other words, that one brief, shining moment known as "Danville" was over. The last month of the campaign had begun, and Dick Cheney and I were back on the vice presidential attack trail.
Copyright © 2003 by Joe Lieberman and Hadassah Lieberman
Meet the Author
Joe Lieberman is a United States senator representing Connecticut. As the 2000 Democratic vice presidential candidate, he became the first Jew in American history to run for national office on a major-party ticket. With close ties and a wide fan base among Evangelical Christians, a popular speaker at churches and conferences, Lieberman counts top Evangelical leaders including Pastor John Hagee, Joyce Meyer, and Rick Warren as his friends and supporters.
Senator Lieberman lives in Stamford and Washington with his wife Hadassah. Together they are the proud parents of four children—Matthew, Rebecca, Ethan and Hana—four granddaughters, Tennessee, Willie, Eden and Madeleine, and a grandson, Yitzhak.
Sarah Crichton, a former Newsweek editor, is publisher of Sarah Crichton Books at Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
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