But what concerns me are not the political machinations that will likely continue until this Friday, the deadline for Lieberman to leave the Senate race. What concerns me is what this all says about Lieberman's ethical priorities. After all, Lieberman, throughout this campaign and his political career, has not been known as someone who puts political expediency above moral uprightness. Is this case a sad exception to this admirable rule?
It seems to me that Judaism, the wellspring for so much in Lieberman's life, provides clear advice in the Senate race example as well: Get out of the race. Of course, Lyndon Johnson ran for a Senate seat in 1960 while on the ticket as vice president, as did Lloyd Bentsen in 1988. Connecticut, like Texas, allows for the double race, but mere permission hardly seems license enough.
Jewish sources, which Lieberman looks to for guidance on matters such as voting on the Sabbath, devote a great deal of attention to the concepts of meaning what you say and acting with honest intention. A famous principle of Jewish business ethics is that if someone has no interest in buying an item, she is prohibited from asking its price, lest the question falsely raise the hopes of the merchant. This idea is known as ona'at devarim, misleading others with words, and the example is raised to show the emotional and, potentially, financial damage that can be done by misrepresenting your purpose.
An even more important Jewish value is that of intentionality in word and deed. The Hebrew name for this goal, kavanna, comes from the word for "direction"--Jews should be directed in their words and deeds, to be consciously aware of what commitments they make, intending at every moment to fulfill them.
Though Lieberman has not been cheating merchants at their wares, he does seem to be cheating the citizens of Connecticut who vote Democratic from having a choice for both vice president and senator. If Lieberman wins the vice presidency, and the Republican governor chooses the state's senator, those Connecticut voters who cast their ballots for Lieberman will in effect have been denied the choice of their senator. By remaining in the race, Lieberman, uncharacteristically, appears to be more interested in protecting his job prospects as of November 8 than he is in being forthright with his constituents. Isn't this unjust, undemocratic, and deceptive, and isn't Lieberman the only one who can act to right the situation?
The expectations for ethical behavior have been high on Lieberman throughout the campaign, but he has welcomed the scrutiny. He has built a record on putting his religion first, acting from his religious convictions on matters as seemingly trifling as what to order at a diner on the campaign trail to his heartfelt response at the vice-presidential debate on the status of civil unions for gay and lesbian Americans--an issue where Lieberman stands to the right of the Democratic Party in general, pulled by a Judaism that still denigrates the idea. Then I saw Lieberman struggling between his political goals and religious convictions--and answering with a deep honesty about his inability to decide.
But in this case, there should be no room for indecision. Lieberman has until Friday--until candle-lighting for Shabbat--to leave the Senate race in Connecticut to enable Democrats in his home state to vote for different candidates for senator and for vice president, like supporters in all the other states of the Union. If Lieberman lets the Friday deadline go by, it will be hard to say he has lived up to his responsibilities as a politician and as a Jew.