Democrats could not have been thinking of projecting an image of social conservatism when they selected Los Angeles as the site of their 2000 convention. But the clash between the party's hard-left Hollywood fundraising base and Al Gore's selection of Hollywood critic Joseph Lieberman created a tension that would be hard for the media to ignore.
In 1992, Al Gore joined Bill Clinton to project an image of two "conservative Democrats." Eight years later, despite Al Gore's solicitation of Hollywood bigwigs (he applauded ABC for "forcing" Americans to confront the coming-out of lesbian comic Ellen DeGeneres), reporters presented the Gore-Lieberman ticket as two traditional peas in a pod.
NBC's Claire Shipman thought liberals would greet Sen. Lieberman warily: "He is a conservative Democrat and they probably don't agree with everything he supports, but, you know, Gore is a pretty conservative Democrat." As the Democratic convention began, CBS's Bryant Gumbel mourned to one guest, "You talked about Hollywood squares. You could have been talking about Al Gore and Joe Lieberman. They don't really fit. How's Hollywood viewing the ticket?"
Mr. Gumbel, who attended a weekend media party at the Playboy Mansion, erupted with disdain for Gore and Lieberman Tuesday morning for pressuring Rep. Loretta Sanchez into canceling a Playboy Mansion fundraiser. He urged the congresswoman to agree that "philosophically they made a lot about nothing." Later, he urged Playboy founder Hugh Hefner and his daughter and CEO Christie to feel outraged: "What message do you think [the Sanchez fundraiser] would have sent, if any?" He clearly didn't feel anyone should find political complications in a party holding Playboy Mansion fundraisers while trying to escape the taint of Clinton's sexual escapades.
ABC's Charles Gibson had a better sense of both sides of the Democrats' Hollywood problem. When two entertainment writers told him that Sen. Lieberman's anti-Hollywood barbs wouldn't hurt Vice President Gore's fundraising, Mr. Gibson protested that Dan Quayle criticized a Murphy Brown single-mother plot and "the country went nuts when Dan Quayle did that, now Hollywood is sort of yawning."
But Sen. Lieberman's peculiar brand of "social conservatism"-which matches public protests about Hollywood's effects on children with a 100-percent pro-abortion, pro-homosexuality voting record-was the kind of unthreatening philosophy the media elite could tout as some sort of authentic move to the middle by the vice president.
The media elite quivered with joy over the first Jewish man on a national ticket, but ignored the measured criticism coming from Sen. Lieberman's fellow Orthodox Jews. Rabbi Daniel Lapin's group, Toward Tradition, issued a statement praising Sen. Lieberman, but noting: "We are deeply disturbed that a man who considers himself an Orthodox Jew voted against the proposed ban on partial-birth abortion. In so doing, he missed an opportunity to link arms with the majority of Americans who reject that barbaric practice, and instead tragically embraced the views of a radical minority. And he has cast many other votes disturbingly out of step with his professed religious beliefs-and disturbingly in line with the 'orthodoxy' of secular liberalism."
While the media underlined the "hardline" Republican platform against abortion and the gay left's legislative agenda, they were much less interested in publicizing the Democrats' planks, which could be read as equally or increasingly "extreme" when compared to the GOP.
On the matter of "choice" (it didn't mention the A-word), the platform proclaimed "The Democratic Party stands behind the right of every woman to choose, consistent with Roe vs. Wade, and regardless of ability to pay." That is exactly the opposite of the GOP platform, with the bonus of forcing pro-life taxpayers to foot the bill for some abortions.
On homosexuality, the Democratic platform proclaimed the need to end "workplace discrimination" against homosexuals and declared support for "the full inclusion of gay and lesbian families in the life of the nation. This would include an equitable alignment of benefits." The Gore-Lieberman ticket also supported repealing any restrictions on open homosexuality in the military.
The same media outlets that harped on Dick Cheney's decades-old votes on the Equal Rights Amendment saw nothing controversial in another Democratic platform that creeps further to the left on social issues. Going into the convention, Meet the Press host Tim Russert pressed Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan, mired at about 1 percent in national polls, about his statement that rampant homosexuality is a sign of moral decline. But Joe Lieberman never needed a question on that topic. Perhaps because the talking heads think he is in line with media orthodoxy?