Holy Smoke and Mirrors

It's always dangerous when politicians claim to be doing God's will. So, as the novelty fades from Al Gore's selection of Joseph Lieberman, journalists should ask some probing questions about the ticket's conspicuous piety.

Over the years, Republican policymakers have been fond of saying that they rely on divine guidance. Cementing his alliance with fundamentalist Christian groups, President Reagan loved to perform at high-profile prayer breakfasts and the like. All too often, political leaders - especially conservative ones - have tried to blur the separation between church and state.

Now, the Gore-Lieberman campaign has launched itself with a very public display of devout posturing. For them, the Old Testament has become fine grist for the centrist mill. The New Democrats are morphing into New Theocrats.

At the formal announcement of his selection for the V.P. slot, Lieberman declared that Gore "has never, never wavered in his responsibilities as a father, as a husband and, yes, as a servant of God Almighty." The vice president stood a few feet away, beaming.

Evidently, in the current political milieu, private beliefs and personal prayer aren't sufficient. To really do the trick, faith must be flaunted. What good is religiosity if you don't wear it on your sleeve and get a lot of good press?

Colleagues laud Lieberman as someone of impeccable morality, a judgment echoed by countless reporters and pundits. Yet a strong argument could be made that he promotes extremely immoral policies - if we look beyond such matters as sexual behavior and public profanity.

By all accounts, Lieberman is personally nice. But he is politically cruel. For instance, his scrupulous morals do not extend to Iraq, where several hundred thousand children have died in recent years due to the U.S.-led sanctions that he enthusiastically supports.

Connecticut's junior senator urges quick deployment of the perilous "missile defense" boondoggle. And this Bible-quoting moralist has continued to push a wide range of new multibillion-dollar weapons systems, which just happen to mean huge revenues for the arms manufacturers that have fattened his campaign coffers. For military contractors, Lieberman is a visionary prophet for profits.

Whether Al Gore is truly "a servant of God Almighty" can only be a subjective matter. But the guy he chose for his running mate is certainly a devoted servant of Dollar Almighty. Few Democratic members of Congress are more eager to undermine the public sector. Lieberman wants taxpayers to subsidize vouchers for private schools. He has been outspoken in support of partially privatizing Social Security.

In contrast to his media reputation as a consumer advocate, Lieberman joined with only three other Senate Democrats in 1995 to put a cap on punitive damage awards in product liability cases. He's on record in favor of slashing capital gains taxes. Like Gore, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, he is a fervent backer of NAFTA, the World Trade Organization and other devices for globalization on corporate terms.

The world's poor people rank quite low in Joe Lieberman's universe of values. As for Palestinians, his brow does not even furrow for them. A down-the-line supporter of Israel, he has proved to be comfortable with the systematic violations of human rights in occupied territories, underwritten by billions of dollars from the U.S. government.

"Lieberman may be a committed Orthodox Jew in his personal practice, but in his role as a public spokesperson he has gone far away from the best aspects of the Jewish tradition," Rabbi Michael Lerner points out. "He has none of that prophetic voice that leads Jews to criticize our own Jewish community and Israel in the name of Torah values. He has none of that Jewish sensitivity to the oppressed that would place their needs above the needs of the wealthy."

Like most other senators, Lieberman has built his career by serving the interests of the rich. Now that he looms very large on the national political stage, Lieberman is well-positioned to further corporatize the Democratic Party. Lerner is on target when he comments: "Lieberman is likely to accelerate the process in which the two major parties seem to be merging into one pro-business, pro-wealthy, elitist and morally tone-deaf governing force."

The men on the 2000 Democratic ticket represent a new theocratic style. Eager to evoke Judeo-Christian unity, they make a show of rejoicing in shared monotheism. But judging from policy priorities, the one god that they most revere is Money.