WASHINGTON, Aug. 18 (JTA) Though much has been made of Democratic vice presidential nominee Joseph Lieberman’s personal faith and his openness about his religion, the questions keep coming and Lieberman keeps trying to make the distinction between the personal and the political.
“I hope people understand the difference between separation of church and state and an individual’s right, including a public individual’s right, to express matters of faith,” he said.
Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew, took a few minutes out to talk with reporters from the Jewish press on Thursday, the last day of the Democratic National Convention. The campaign kicked things off in Wisconsin early Friday as Gore, Lieberman and their families began a riverboat journey down the Mississippi.
As the first Jew on a national ticket, Lieberman has had his Judaism placed under a microscope and some have been critical of his willingness to speak freely about God.
But Lieberman keeps his faith out in front and would prefer to explain rather than shy away from his observances.
“I understand the curiosity, interest and even confusion,” he said. “So far people have been very respectful and very interested and I appreciate both.”
Asked if he thought his openness of his faith made people uncomfortable he simply said, “I hope it doesn’t.”
When Lieberman stood with Vice President Al Gore for the first time as his running mate in Nashville, many took note of the numerous references to God and religion in Lieberman’s speech.
Lieberman explained that he felt “profound personal gratitude” at that moment and he was just expressing his feelings.
“Those words of thanks to God just came out of me,” he said.
He did say, however, that there are points at which his faith is personal and has “nothing to do with my public responsibility.”
Other issues have dogged Lieberman of late as well. The new nominee came under some fire last week as the Congressional Black Caucus demanded clarification of some of Lieberman’s more conservative positions, such as those on affirmative action and school vouchers.
Lieberman touted his steadfast support for affirmative action at the convention and in his acceptance speech said he was in favor of President Clinton’s “mend it, don’t end it” approach to affirmative action.
The pressure from the black caucus came amid suggestions that tensions between the Jewish and black communities were flaring up.
Last week, an editorial in the Amsterdam News, a major black newspaper in New York, suggested Gore bought the Jewish vote by selecting Lieberman as his running mate. When asked to comment on the editorial, Lieberman said he had not encountered that kind of sentiment so far on the campaign trail.
At rallies and meetings across the country Lieberman said he received an “extraordinarily warm and positive response” from blacks.
Lieberman echoed what civil rights leader Jesse Jackson said about the opportunity now to “make vibrant” the ties between the Jewish and black communities.
The Connecticut senator predicted that the Gore-Lieberman ticket would receive overwhelming support from the black community.
School vouchers is another issue on which Lieberman has had to clarify his position because it differs from Gore’s and that of many Democrats.
Lieberman still supports demonstration programs for vouchers that are means-tested and aimed at poor children. He said his focus is on improving public schools, but he wants to “help parents whose kids are trapped in failing schools.”
“I’m not changing my position and I don’t regret my position,” Lieberman said.
But he reiterated that where he and Gore have differing positions, if elected as vice president he would support Gore’s stand.
Although the talk with the press was short, and he sounded someone weary from the events of the past few days, Lieberman managed to show some of his sense of humor.
When told by a local paper that his selection had helped boost their circulation, Lieberman chuckled and said, “Anything I can do to help the economy.”