It's Friday, Aug. 7, 2020, the day of the week when I reprise instructive or inspirational quotations. Today's concerns Joseph Lieberman, whom Al Gore selected as a running mate 20 years ago today.
Gore's unorthodox pick (of an Orthodox Jew), firmly rooted in the center of the political spectrum, was not a complete surprise. Three days earlier, Lieberman's name had surfaced in news stories about Gore's vice presidential "shortlist." Among the other names were John Kerry, Jeanne Shaheen, Evan Bayh, John Edwards, and Dick Gephardt. But when Gore tapped Lieberman, an odd thing happened in Washington: Almost nobody had a bad word to say about the guy.
Liberal Democrats, pleased over Gore's evolving progressive policies, swallowed their private misgivings while publicly vouching for Lieberman's character. Republicans were even more flummoxed. You realized how highly the George W. Bush campaign brain trust thought of Gore's choice by what their surrogates said about it. One such Republican, former Indiana Sen. Dan Coats, appeared on Gwen Ifill's PBS show the day the news broke. Coats' muted critique consisted entirely of pointing out previous policy differences between Gore and Lieberman. But Coats prefaced his comments with this testimonial: "First of all, Joe Lieberman is a terrific fellow, and I'm a good friend. It's hard to say anything negative about him."
Meanwhile, political moderates were practically giddy, especially moderate Democrats. Al From, founder of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council -- an organization chaired by both Lieberman and Bill Clinton -- was also interviewed by Gwen Ifill.
His repeated response when told of Gore's pick: "Miracles happen!"
The Democrats didn't get a miracle in November, losing a highly contested election that put George W. Bush in the White House instead of Al Gore, and Dick Cheney, not Joe Lieberman, in the vice president's residence. And eight years later, when he might have been accepting the Democrats' presidential nomination had the 2000 Florida recount gone differently, Lieberman was speaking at the Republican convention in support of his friend John McCain.
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Al Gore and Joe Lieberman weren't the only candidates whose hopes were dashed by George W. Bush's 2000 campaign. First, Bush had to vanquish a slew of Republican primary contenders, including war hero and Arizona Sen. John McCain. Eight years later, however, McCain finally wrested his party's nomination away from the GOP establishment. As Republicans prepared to gather for their Minnesota convention, McCain faced the same decision Gore had eight years earlier and, surprisingly, he came to the same decision: He wanted to run with Joe Lieberman, too.
McCain's political advisers talked him out of this. At the time, I remember thinking they were smart to do so. Half of the solidly pro-life delegates would have walked out of that convention had the nominee chosen a pro-choice Democrat as his running mate. Given the destructive polarization that has debased and crippled American politics in the ensuing years, I'm willing to concede I was wrong. McCain didn't want Lieberman in spite of the man being a Democrat; he wanted him because of that. Mostly, though, he wanted Joe Lieberman a heartbeat away from the presidency because he trusted his fellow senator completely and because they had a shared vision of America. In the end, Lieberman risked the wrath of his own party by endorsing McCain and speaking at the St. Paul convention.
"What, after all, is a Democrat like me doing at a Republican convention like this?" he began. "Well, I'll tell you what: I'm here to support John McCain because country matters more than party. I am here tonight for a simple reason. John McCain is the best choice to bring our country together and lead America forward. And, dear friends, I am here tonight because John McCain's whole life testifies to a great truth: Being a Democrat or a Republican is important, but it is nowhere near as important as being an American."
As anyone who reads these morning homilies of mine knows, I agree with all that. But as Joe Biden prepares to name his running mate, it's worth keeping something else in mind as well. The relationship between presidents and vice presidents has evolved into a close working partnership. Modern presidents want, quite understandably, someone in the veep's job whom they not only trust, but like personally. And John McCain and Joe Lieberman were friends. Real friends, not Facebook friends. Best friends, the kind that Raul Julia's movie character Carlos describes so memorably in a tense scene in "Tequila Sunrise," a script written by the great Robert Towne.
"Friendship is the only choice in life you can make that's yours! You can't choose your family! goddamn it, I've had to face that. … Friendship is all we have. We chose each other."
And that's our quote of the week.
Carl M. Cannon is the Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.