2016-07-27
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"The 700 Club" is not the kind of program on which you expect to see leading Jewish Democratic politicians welcomed. But host and would-be GOP kingmaker Pat Robertson rolled out the red carpet in February for Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, now presidential candidate Al Gore's Jewish running mate.

On the program, Lieberman denounced "moral relativism" and praised Robertson for helping to lead "another spiritual awakening in America." "And one of the hopeful signs that I see as I look back over three decades now in public life, is that people of faith are taking their principles into the political arena," Lieberman said.

He went on: "I really [call] for more of that. I know in some ways this is controversial, but I don't think America suffers from...too much [religion in public life], we suffer from too little of it."

It takes guts for a Democrat and a Jew to say things like that, and it takes even more courage to do so on a TV show hosted by the evangelical leader liberals love to hate. That's why many conservative Catholics and Protestants admire Joe Lieberman. It doesn't hurt that he's a devout Orthodox Jew who refuses to work on the Sabbath and Jewish holidays, abiding by the principle that God is more important than politics--a heresy inside the Beltway.

But will these same conservative Christians actually vote for a Lieberman ticket? The answer, many will probably conclude sadly, is no. Despite Lieberman's exemplary position on a range of moral and social issues, he hews to the liberal Democratic commitment to abortion on demand, which to them is anathema.

It's certainly true that there is much about Lieberman's political life conservative Christians can admire. Don't tell the American Civil Liberties Union, but Lieberman is one of a handful of Congressmen bold enough to post the Ten Commandments in their offices. And he enjoys a reputation as a man who would rather stay home with his family than schmooze on the Washington cocktail party scene.

And there's more: Lieberman is also cherished by Christian conservatives for supporting school vouchers, which the Clinton-Gore administration strongly opposes. They also cheer Lieberman's activism against entertainment industry smut. He teamed up with conservative Catholic William Bennett to lead a campaign embarrassing Time Warner into selling off its violence-glorifying gangsta rap label in 1995. Hollywood stars and executives are major contributors to the Democratic Party, and Lieberman has been unafraid to attack them repeatedly for what he sees as the entertainment industry's assault on civilized values.

"He has his feet planted in the Talmud, not on focus groups," Bennett once said.

That, and his courageous denunciation of Bill Clinton's goatish Monica-gate behavior--Lieberman was the first national Democrat to do so--is what earned the Connecticut senator an invitation to appear on "The 700 Club," even though Lieberman ultimately declined to ratify the House's impeachment verdict. Lieberman serves in interfaith organizations with Christian conservative leaders such as Ralph Reed, Chuck Colson, Gary Bauer, and Richard John Neuhaus--all bêtes noires in liberal Democratic circles. He is not ashamed of these men, even though their friendship does him no favors in Democratic groups.

Now that Lieberman's been tapped to be Al Gore's vice president, one might expect that observant Christians would be thrilled that a man unwilling to compromise his traditionalist religious identity in public can rise nearly to the summit of American life.

Privately, they may be. But they won't vote for the Gore-Lieberman ticket. Not a chance. For all his religiosity, Lieberman is an unwavering supporter of abortion rights. "He couldn't be worse on the issue," says Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee. Lieberman even voted to sustain President Clinton's override of Congress' ban on partial-birth abortion, the gruesome procedure in which a baby is partly delivered before her skull is pierced and brains suctioned out by the abortionist.

That's all conservative Christians need to know to rule out Joe Lieberman, whatever his many virtues. "It's not going to be anti-Semitism," says Daniel Lapin, an Orthodox rabbi who heads Toward Tradition, an organization of conservative Jews, Christians, and others. "It's his view on abortion."

Indeed, abortion has been one of the urgent social issues that has broken down longstanding socio-political divisions in American life. The 1973 Roe v. Wade decision brought conservative Catholics and evangelical Protestants together in protest and resistance. Some Jews, such as Brooklyn Rabbi Yehuda Levin, have also joined the informal pro-life coalition.

It will surprise those who haven't been paying close attention to American religion in the past 30 years that religious liberals aren't the only ones who have learned to work closely with those of other faiths.

University of Virginia sociologist James Davidson Hunter has observed that a "new ecumenism" realigns American culture between those who believe in a transcendent God who makes objective moral claims upon people (though they may differ somewhat on what those claims are), and those who do not, whether atheist, agnostic, or part of a liberal theological tradition.

Thus, religious traditionalists of all stripes find that on important public policy issues, they have more in common with orthodox members of other faiths than with progressive adherents to their own.

"The cultural chasm that cuts through the American landscape is not between black and white, rich and poor, men and women, and Jews and Christians," says Rabbi Lapin, author of "America's Real War" (Multnomah), which argues that Orthodox Jews and conservative Christians are natural allies.

"It's between those who see religion and traditional family as being at the heart of how to restore America, and those who see too much religion and too much traditional family values at the root of America's problems," says Lapin. "There are Jews and Christians on both sides of the issue."

Although he's excited that a fellow Orthodox Jew has been so honored, the pro-life Rabbi Lapin is not backing his co-religionist's vice-presidential bid.

Says Lapin: "The big question is, How can somebody who takes God seriously support a man like Bill Clinton?"

That's precisely how most evangelicals and conservative Catholics see it. It's why they may sincerely wish mazel tov to Joe Lieberman, a morally serious man and a sometime ally. But vote for him? What are you, meshuga?

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