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  November 6, 2000

Panel Explores Implications of
Lieberman's Run for Vice President

The candidacy of Joseph Lieberman will most likely make it easier for African Americans, Latinos, Asians and others to enter big-time politics. Most Americans, even some Jews, don't know much about Judaism. Religion and politics might not be a good mix. Lieberman's run for high office isn't the same as John F. Kennedy's.

Those were some of the thoughts offered Wednesday by professors during a panel on the significance of Vice President Al Gore's choice of Lieberman as his running mate. The panel was moderated by Arnold Dashefsky, professor of sociology and director of the Center for Judaic Studies and Contemporary Jewish Life.

Ron Taylor, professor of sociology and vice provost for multicultural affairs, quoted from an essay in a recent New York magazine: "The Jewish community's reaction to Lieberman's candidacy was overwhelmingly positive," he said. Quoting from the article, he went on: "Emotions simply spilled out. Some people cried. Others had a hard time sleeping. Even secular, assimilated, successful Jews who don't usually give their religious identity much thought gushed about smashing barriers, breaking glass ceilings, and the special historical significance of the moment." Taylor said that Gore's choice of Lieberman opened up the political process to other minorities.

Jocelyn Linnekin, professor of anthropology and coordinator of the University's program on the study of religion, asked, "Do people vote on the basis of high-minded values and ideals, or do they vote on the basis of their prejudices? As an anthropologist, I would say the answer is probably yes to both, because humans are paradoxical creatures and are quite capable of espousing contradictory ideals and not knowing they are internally contradictory.

She added that she "rejoiced in the Lieberman candidacy, because it's about time we broke through the legacy of bigotry in American politics."

Stuart S. Miller, associate professor of modern and classical languages and associate director of the Center for Judaic Studies and Contemporary Jewish Life, addressed the lack of knowledge about Judaism.

The media and most Americans, Jews and non-Jews alike, don't have a clue about what Jewish observance entails, he said: "Joe's candidacy is a wake-up call to Americans to learn more about their religious identities."

Lieberman's reputation for morality was discussed by Bruce M. Stave, professor of history and director of the Center for Oral History. "He got up on the floor of the Senate and chastised (President) Clinton and took a moralistic stand," Stave said.

He described the senator as sanctimonious, and expressed concern about "the whole notion of religion and politics. Does it mix? I'm not sure it's a very good thing."

Howard Reiter, a professor of political science, compared Lieberman's vice presidential bid to the presidential run of Kennedy 40 years ago.

One of the purposes of the Kennedy candidacy, he said, was to win back Roman Catholics to the Democratic party. "That was a large part of the political rationale for nominating Kennedy," he said.

But it wasn't the same when Gore chose Lieberman, he said. "Democrats continue to get the lion's share of Jewish votes. Gore wasn't far behind during the summer, and I think he knew he had a real chance to win the presidency, and yet he chose Lieberman. So in a way, this is an unprecedented circumstance."

The discussion, "Recognition Politics for American Jews: The Social and Political Implications of Joe Lieberman's Candidacy for Vice President," was held at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center on Wednesday, Nov. 1.

Sherry Fisher