An Amazing Adventure: Joe and Hadassah's Personal Notes on the 2000 Campaign

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9780743229388: An Amazing Adventure: Joe and Hadassah's Personal Notes on the 2000 Campaign
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Filled with amusing anecdotes and cautionary wisdom, the 2000 Democratic vice-presidential nominee and his wife vividly recreate the excitement, demand, and satisfaction, of running in a national campaign, detailing their experiences with primaries, Democratic conventions, debates, and, finally, election day. 50,000 first printing.

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About the Author:

Senator Joseph I. Lieberman (D-CT) is in his third term in the United States Senate and was the Democratic vice presidential candidate in 2000.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter Nine

During 2000, someone told me that in the heat of a national campaign there are only two moods among campaign workers:

1. We're going to lose.

2. What job do I want in the administration?

In September 2000, the résumés were being polished. The Bush campaign had stumbled in the wake of our success at the convention. Bush's double-digit lead had evaporated after the Democratic National Convention, and even his negatives had risen above Gore's -- 39 percent vs. 29 percent for Al, according to one poll. "We let [Gore] come back to life," griped one Republican strategist. "It was a great blunder."

Not only was Bush having trouble getting back on his feet, Gore was indefatigable (and so, may I add, was I).

We campaigned for twenty-four hours straight over Labor Day -- from Philadelphia to Flint, to Tampa, to Toledo, to Detroit. Bush, on the other hand, seemed to be working half as hard. Every time we turned around he was heading back to his Texas ranch for another weekend of R&R. A senior Gore staffer joked that while Al traveled with a "football," the briefcase containing the codes for a nuclear launch, Bush's aides also carried a "football" for their boss -- it contained Bush's pillow.

Bush seemed testy and insecure. He kept mangling words. A microphone was left open and he was overheard describing Adam Clymer of The New York Times to Dick Cheney as "a major league asshole," to which Cheney responded, "Oh yeah, big time." And he got bogged down in a debate over presidential debates. When Bush complained to reporters, "Debates suck the air out of the campaign," it made him look as if he were trying to duck being compared to Al Gore, who was known to be a great debater.

Somewhere around the third week of September, Bush snapped awake. Some observers gave Laura Bush credit for shaking her husband and his campaign out of its stupor. I don't know if that's the case or not. I do know that the Republicans launched a strong counterattack.

Up until that point, Bush's campaign was mostly directed against Bill Clinton, promising to "restore honor and dignity" to the White House. But Al Gore had stood before the convention and declared, "We're entering a new time. We're electing a new president. And I stand here tonight as my own man." Now Bush had to broaden his attack and go more directly after Gore. The Republicans didn't stop their anti-Clinton rhetoric. They just added a series of new attacks that were intended to tarnish Al's appeal and credibility, and mine.

At a speech in Green Bay, Wisconsin, on September 28, Bush declared, "The vice president was seated right behind Bill Clinton at the State of the Union when the president declared, 'The era of big government is over.' Apparently, the message never took....He offers a big federal spending program to nearly every single voting bloc in America. He expands entitlements without reforms to sustain them."

This was Bush's new refrain: Beware! Al Gore is a big government liberal in the guise of a New Democrat.

He was wrong. Gore's record was full of fiscal responsibility and government efficiency, but Bush had found a vulnerability nonetheless in the Gore campaign, whose strategy was to beat Bush on individual issues -- prescription drugs, Social Security, Medicare, HMO reform. To turn the spotlight on Bush's vulnerability -- lack of specificity and weakness with facts -- our campaign made a lot of detailed proposals which allowed Bush to paint Gore as a candidate who had a government answer to every problem.

That's not all the Republicans did to Al Gore in September.

During a stump speech on prescription drug prices in Tallahassee, Florida, on August 28, Al said that Lodine, the arthritis medicine used by Tipper's mother, was the same medicine used to treat the Gores' dog, Shiloh, and that the drug was three times more expensive to buy for his mother-in-law than for his dog.

Three weeks later, The Boston Globe published an article pointing out inaccuracies in Al's statement, but also concluding that "Gore's overall message was accurate -- that many brand-name drugs are much more expensive for people than for pets." The Republicans immediately flooded reporters with faxes of the Globe article and e-mails questioning Al's credibility. The media ate it up.

Introducing her husband, Dick Cheney, at rallies during the following days, Lynne Cheney told the cheering crowds, "I once wrote a book called Telling the Truth, and I am sending an autographed copy to the vice president." The Bush campaign hired a college student to climb into a dog suit, hung a sign around his neck that read "Lodine the Canine," and sent him to Gore events.

At the same time, after a very smooth and positive entry into the race, I began to come in for my share of political flak. The Bush campaign was circulating misleading information to the media that I had changed my position on Social Security, privatization, and affirmative action. I had not. The Anti-Defamation League's Abe Foxman intensified his criticism of my expressions of faith, complaining that I was "hawking religion." Then I appeared on an African American radio network and was asked whether I would meet with Louis Farrakhan, which a few leaders in the African American community whom I greatly respected had urged me to do. They said his bout with prostate cancer had changed him, and I should seize this moment to reach out to him. I said that although I had been deeply offended by Farrakhan's racist and anti-Semitic statements in the past, I was open to meeting with him on the chance that he might have changed. That brought another wave of criticism from the Republicans, the ADL, and some newspaper columnists.

Next, Bill Bennett, my comrade-in-arms in the culture wars, accused me of going soft on Hollywood after a Beverly Hills fund-raiser where I had said I would never support censorship of Hollywood but would continue to "nudzh" them to produce better entertainment with less violence and less sex. Bennett criticized my use of the Yiddish verb "nudzh" as too gentle. My response was that, based on long experience being "nudzhed" -- particularly by members of my family -- I would define the verb as "persistent criticism until one changes one's behavior." That seemed exactly like what he and I had been doing to the entertainment industry. In any case, I did not benefit from the exchange.

Within our campaign, all this caused an outbreak of anxiety at the end of September as we began to slip in the polls. But that dissipated when Bush was badgered into accepting the challenge to debate Gore -- in fact, to debate him three times. Great, we thought, we'll win those straying voters back when we get to the debates in October. Al is an excellent debater, and there is no way the governor of Texas can gain comparable confidence with the facts a president faces in such a short time. As for me, I'd had my share of campaign debates, and I'd learned a lot from them. In 1988, my debate performances had been crucial to my narrow win over Senator Weicker. I had proved I could get in the ring with the pro and not only hold my own, but land some punches. That, to our surprise, was what Bush ended up doing to Gore in 2000.

The one vice presidential debate would be held on October 5 at the Norton Center for the Arts at Centre College, a small liberal arts school in Danville, Kentucky. Although the stakes were higher in the three presidential debates, I naturally wanted to do as well as I possibly could to help the ticket.

If it takes a village to raise a child, it apparently takes an army to prepare a vice presidential debater, or so I learned in 2000. Jonathan Sallet was our general. He'd worked on Al Gore's debate training teams in 1992 and 1996. ("I hold the American political record for the most days lodged in a vice presidential debate camp," says Jonathan.) Sheryl Wilkerson, a Washington attorney, left the FCC early in September to work with Jon, heading up a team that did debate research, and put together an issues book for me. It was big. It not only contained the basic papers on the widest range of issues, but it also included every position I had ever taken on any issue and the Gore campaign's position on all the issues.

It wasn't enough to simply be on track with the Gore campaign. I needed to be able to defend and advance each and every position the campaign espoused, and to do so in a short, crisp, affirmative way.

The preparation was more extensive than anything I had ever experienced. But remember, the debate would be the third and final big moment of opportunity for me to make a real difference in the campaign.

Beginning in September -- even before we knew whether the debates would occur and, if so, where and when -- we crammed tutorial sessions into those rare times on planes or in hotel rooms when I had a few hours free. So I carried my briefing book everywhere. Jonathan seized chunks of time in the strangest places, suddenly appearing at a hotel where we were staying in Miami, just as the sun set on Saturday, for three evening hours of debate prep. Another time he worked his way into the schedule on a Friday afternoon in Chicago for two hours before the sun set. That time he brought a mock opponent and we had a practice debate.

Meanwhile, we worked together to strategize and analyze my opponent's vulnerabilities. Should I take on Cheney or focus my attacks on Bush? We studied tapes of Cheney's television appearances and analyzed ones from my Senate campaigns. I was surprised at how aggressive I'd been in my 1988 debates in the Senate race with Senator Lowell Weicker. A campaign strategist -- probably Carter Eskew, maybe the late Bob Squier -- said to me back then, You know, you've got to convince the voters of Connecticut to fire Weicker and hire you. I'd clearly taken their advice to heart -- and it had worked.

I am not by nature a combative person, but I can definitely be a fighter when I have something to fight for. In this case, I was ready to get aggressive again in the debate with Cheney, because the differences be...

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