Lieberman calms fears of party's wary black leaders

Democratic Convention: Al Gore's running mate tries to persuade concerned left-wingers and minority delegates that he is their candidate, too
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The Independent US

After barely one week in the national spotlight, Joseph Lieberman was preparing yesterday to introduce himself to America as the country's next vice-president, should Al Gore be elected to the White House.

After barely one week in the national spotlight, Joseph Lieberman was preparing yesterday to introduce himself to America as the country's next vice-president, should Al Gore be elected to the White House.

But the unassuming Senator from Connecticut, who broke new ground by becoming the first Jew to figure on a major party's presidential ticket, has also to convince two key constituencies of his party that he has their best interests at heart.

After basking in the enthusiastic attention that his nomination attracted last week, Mr Lieberman arrived in Los Angeles on Tuesday to find himself at the centre of two simmering rows, which seeped into the public domain despite the best efforts of Democratic party officials to defuse them.

Some black delegates to the party's convention expressed doubts about his commitment to their cause, while the left of the party - the old-style pre-Clinton Democrats - questioned whether, as leader of the New Democrat grouping, the Democratic Leadership Council, he shared their concern with social justice.

Mr Lieberman managed only a few hours' sleep after a late evening arrival in Los Angeles on Monday when he decided to brave the massed ranks of black delegates in person in an effort to allay their concerns. Taking the microphone at a packed meeting of the black caucus on Tuesday morning, he related his involvement in the civil rights campaign: his travels to Mississippi as a law student in an effort to register black voters and his participation in Martin Luther King's epic march on Washington.

The public dissent had been led by Maxine Waters, a Congresswoman from South-Central Los Angeles, who is on her home turf at the convention. After his assurances, she said she would support him and was photographed, beaming, with her arm around him.

A more delicate problem, and one Mr Lieberman had to overcome last night by sheer force of personality and sincere goodwill, was the deep-seated, but mostly unspoken, suspicion in sections of black opinion that the interests of Jews and blacks are incompatible.

That worry is shared by so-called "liberals" in the Democratic Party, who see Mr Lieberman as representing a welfare-cutting, business-friendly brand of Democrat thinking.

The traditionalist grassroots of the party were in their element on Tuesday night. A succession of left-wingers, from Jesse Jackson through Senator Edward Kennedy (introduced by his niece, and JFK's daughter, Caroline) and on to Al Gore's defeated challenger Bill Bradley, issued impassioned calls for the party to remember all those "left behind" by the current economic boom.

Presenting a very different picture of America from the one of prosperity and content painted by Mr Clinton in defending his record the previous evening, they held the banner for the 44 million Americans with no health insurance, for workers whose pay is too low to live on and the almost 20 per cent of American children officially classified as "poor".

In a rousing speech, the Rev Jesse Jackson noted the convention was being held "in the home of the dream-makers AND the janitors".

Speakers testified to Mr Lieberman's unimpeachable social credentials. "I take great pride in knowing that one of those he [John F Kennedy] inspired to enter public life is the next vice-president of the United States -- Joe Lieberman," said Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg. And Jesse Jackson said that in selecting Mr Lieberman as his running mate, Al Gore had "brought the sons and daughters of slaves and slavemasters together with the sons and daughters of Holocaust survivors" and "raised the moral chin bar". When a barrier falls for one of the locked out, he said, "it opens doors for all."

But there was a hint also that the balance of the party could be starting to shift once again. Some of the delegates - who had cut their political teeth in the protest movements of the Sixties - privately expressed embarrassment at the convention's short shrift for the disparate protesters on the street.

And some of the loudest cheers greeted Bill Bradley's exhortation to his disappointed young supporters. After an adequate, but clinical, testimonial to Al Gore, he urged them: "Never give up and never sell out... And if you get angry enough and are smart enough and work hard enough, you can change things."

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