The good news? All that drama overshadowed the question of a Jew taking up residence in the White House. It's difficult now to remember how portentous the issue seemed a few months ago, isn't it?
Maybe now we can all congratulate ourselves at being so enlightened that a ticket with a Jewish vice-presidential candidate won the popular vote. But if we want to be more honest with ourselves, we'll admit that Lieberman, while unabashedly Jewish, does not challenge mainstream America's fears of "others."
In light of the bizarre election season just ended, concerns about the viability of the first Jewish vice-presidential candidate now seem quaint. Way back on August 8, 2000 BTGE (Before This God-Awful Election), when the selection was announced, however, the news was a sensation, and the nation waited to see if political or cultural chaos would ensue. Would the Aryan Nation or the Christian Identity crowd rise up enraged and institute American-style pogroms? Would it cost the Dems the anti-Semitic vote or, equally dangerous, simply the anti-PC, anti-pandering vote? Lieberman is an observant Jew who led the Democratic contingent of Clinton condemners in the Monica Lewinsky affair, but more legitimate were concerns about the propriety of his overt religiosity and his apostasies on Democratic issues like vouchers and affirmative action.
When I heard that America had its first black Miss America, my first thought was "Hallelujah!" quickly followed by "I bet she ain't very black." And she (current movie and Broadway star Vanessa Williams) wasn't, but she has certainly paved the way for minority women from barely black to downright Nubian. Williams, however light-skinned, is clearly black, just as Lieberman, however similar-looking he may be to every other vice president we've elected, is clearly Jewish. He's an easy Jew, the kind who doesn't make you nervous, the one you can nonchalantly, chauvinistically brag about knowing ("I forget he's Jewish") and forever immunize yourself against charges of anti-Semitism.
Lieberman is Orthodox and observant (walking to the Senate on the Sabbath but still voting, an act whose other-ness is trumped by its impression of self-sacrifice and duty so you can't help but be impressed). He's not a Hasidic Jew who chooses and takes pride in looking different by wearing a black hat or dangling earlocks. He introduced his Judaism to America partly through the prism of his courageous involvement in the Civil Rights movement as a young man. There's just no topping his having been a Freedom Rider.
Has America finally overcome?
If we have, it will be partially because the players knew how high the stakes were and took appropriate measures. To much Republican hooting, Lieberman and Gore took their Grovel Before Women and Racial Minorities Road Show all over the country during campaign season (click here for coverage of Lieberman's bent-knee appearance before the Congressional Black Caucus at the DNC Convention) and were a smash at mollifying disgruntled constituencies. The furious stroking and contrition paid off; no groups voted more overwhelmingly for the Gore-Lieberman ticket than those two. Women supported the ticket 54% to 42%. Those women were likely loyal Democrats undeterred by either anti-Semitism or jealousy; 94% of black women, 63% of unmarried women, 57% of female college graduates, and more than half of women voters who earn more than $75,000 annually voted for Gore-Lieberman according to The New Republic magazine.
Few feared that blacks would vote Republican but rather that they might stay home, if only to shake up a disrespectful, unresponsive Democratic Party long seen by some to have abandoned their most faithful voting bloc. But, as has been widely reported, they voted in higher numbers for Gore-Lieberman than for favorite son Bill Clinton in 1996 (and that's with large pockets of the black vote allegedly suppressed, uncounted, or disqualified). Nationally, after a tremendous nationwide voter registration and get-out-the-vote effort, 90% voted for the Democratic ticket, arguably putting to rest once and for all the theory of a general black anti-Semitism that goes beyond the rhetorical.