During the summer of 2000, I saw light at the end of a dark tunnel of hatred and mayhem that has spanned back for two millennia. This was the summer of the fateful peace summit at Camp David for Israelis and Palestinians; it was also the time that Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut was selected by Al Gore to be his Vice Presidential running mate. To this day, I believe that if the Gore-Lieberman ticket had succeeded, coupled with a successful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in 2000 or 2001, this would have meant an effective end to antisemitism.
Racist and theological antisemites would have held out in isolated pockets within the Christian and Islamic worlds, but only on the margins. Beyond antisemitism, most of what plagues us today has something to do with the twin failures of these two ventures in 2000.
In digesting the enormous human breakthrough in this country’s election of an African American to the Presidency, I can’t help but think with a heavy heart about “our” would-be breakthrough candidate, Joe Lieberman.
It’s not that I’ve thought all that highly of him as a politician, but it’s what he symbolized. Even the fact that he’s religious strengthened the symbolism of his contention for the highest level of national leadership, because he’s a proud, self-affirming Jew (actually more ‘conservadox’ than Orthodox). One doesn’t have to be Orthodox, or religious in any way, to be unabashedly Jewish, but a committed Jew (especially one who’s mainly a liberal) occupying the first or second highest office in the land, might have provided an education for non-Jews in the US and around the world.
But instead, the 2000 election was a debacle and he campaigned in 2004 for the Democratic nomination for President as a hawk on Iraq, very much out of step with his party. Still, his decision to caucus with Senate Democrats after being elected as an independent in 2006 gave them majority control. Then, he reversed course in the campaign just ended in 2008, defecting to the Republican standard-bearer, John McCain, serving literally at his side as one of his staunchest supporters.
This was not a crime, but it also was not the forthright model of an “out” Jew who is a pursuer of peace and progress that most of the world could admire. Sadly, he was not our Barack Obama, in whom so much of the world has invested its hope.