NASHVILLE — Making their debut as running mates, Al Gore and Joseph I. Lieberman vowed Tuesday to expand America's prosperity, renew its "moral center" and lead the way toward a more tolerant society.
At a spirited midday rally in downtown Nashville, the vice president formally introduced the two-term Connecticut senator--and the first Jew ever chosen for a major party ticket--as a close personal friend and political soul mate who shares his values and vision.
"Joe and I come from different regions and different religious faiths. But we believe in a common set of ideals," Gore told several thousand enthusiastic supporters who braved a near-100-degree heat.
"Together, we're going to take this ticket from Nashville, Tenn., today to Los Angeles, Calif., next week and all the way across America to the White House this November," Gore said.
The vice president likened the presence of an Orthodox Jew on the Democratic ticket to that of a Roman Catholic, John F. Kennedy, as the party's standard-bearer in 1960.
"That year, we voted with our hearts to make history by tearing down a mighty wall of division. We made history," Gore said. "And when we nominate Joe Lieberman for vice president, we will make history again. We will tear down an old wall of division once again!"
Gore and Lieberman are scheduled to be nominated at the Democratic convention that starts Monday in Los Angeles and continues through Aug. 17.
Striking an unusually personal note, a clearly moved Lieberman hailed Gore's "courage and character" in putting an Orthodox Jew on the Democratic ticket."
"It is Al Gore who broke this barrier," Lieberman said. "It shows his faith in the tolerance of this diverse nation, and in the basic fairness of the American people."
Then Lieberman joked: "Some might even call it an act of chutzpah."
As the Democratic candidates stood on stage, and then worked the crowd after their speeches, they were accompanied by their ebullient wives--striking a picture of energy and dynamism not unlike the one that energized Democrats in 1992, when the Gores joined Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton.
One difference between now and then, however, is that the Gores and Liebermans are genuine friends of long standing--whereas the relationship between the Clintons and the Gores was a friendship of political convenience forged more for imagery than based on reality.
The Democratic rally here also was a sharp contrast to the counterpart GOP event last month when Republican nominee George W. Bush introduced Dick Cheney as his running mate. That event took place in a small room in a sports arena, attended by several hundred invited guests--who were nearly outnumbered by reporters. Each candidate spoke briefly and then left.
On Tuesday, there were at least two harbingers of how the Democratic ticket--and Campaign 2000--may be unlike any other.
As he opened his remarks, Lieberman launched into a prayer, as Gore nodded approvingly.
"Dear friends, I am so full of gratitude at this moment I ask you to allow me to let the spirit move me, as it does, to remember the words from Chronicles, which are 'to give thanks to God and declare His name and make His acts known to the people, to be glad of spirit; to sing to God and make music to God, and most of all, to give glory and gratitude to God, from whom all blessings truly do flow.' "
Lieberman concluded: "Dear Lord, maker of all miracles, I thank you for bringing me to this extraordinary moment in my life. . . . "
At that point, Tipper Gore, the vice president's wife, started chanting: "Joe, Joe, Joe, Joe." The crowd quickly joined in.
The Connecticut senator spoke in almost Rabbinic cadence, referring to the audience as "dear friends" and in calling Monday, when he received the news, "a miracle day."
Lieberman vowed to work with the Gores "to help renew the moral center of this nation so that families can be stronger, children safer and parents empowered to pass to their children their faith and their moral values."
Earlier, Hadassah, Lieberman's wife, spoke movingly about the rally's site--a public square that is a war memorial to America's veterans.
She said the venue held special meaning for her because her mother was rescued by American GIs after being interned at Auschwitz and Dachau, and her father is a survivor of Nazi camps.
"So I stand before you very deeply, sincerely thankful that I am an American. . . ," Hadassah Lieberman said. "Whether you and your family immigrated from Europe, Africa, Mexico, Latin America or Asia, I am standing here for you! This country is our country!"
The Gores and the Liebermans have been friends for almost 15 years, having dined often at one another's homes. The Liebermans also attended the 1997 wedding of Karenna Gore, the couple's eldest daughter.
On Monday night, after arriving in Nashville, Lieberman--along with his wife; his mother, Marcia; his 13-year-old daughter, Hana; his son Matt; and Matt's wife, April--joined the Gores for a two-hour private dinner in the Gores' hotel suite.