A different kind of yarmulke in the making?

The presidential tickets of this topsy-turvy Campaign 2000 are now complete. Meet and greet the Republican and Democratic standard-bearers: Dick Cheney and Joe Lieberman.

Cheney and Lieberman, quiet men of personal dignity and political principle, are the bearers of the most positive standards their parties can offer. And make no mistake: That is their greatest contribution to their presidential tickets. Indeed, that is their job.

Never has there been a time when the announcements of the selection of two vice presidential nominees were greeted by such overwhelming personal praise from pols who served with them but sat on the other side of the congressional aisle. When Cheney's selection was announced, Democrats hailed him as a man they trusted and respected, a person who was as true to his word as he was to his conservative principles.

This week, when Gore's selection of Lieberman, a centrist Democratic senator from Connecticut with strong ties to labor unions, was smartly leaked a day before it was officially announced, Republicans appeared on camera to say the sort of things politicians usually say only about their own party's candidates. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.): ''I think he brings a lot of integrity to the ticket.'' Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.): ''Joe is a man of rare ability and integrity.''

Let's put these past few weeks into the context of the past few decades:

It used to be that what was looked for first in presidential candidates were people of towering principles, widely admired by their political adversaries as well as allies. So we look first for Eisenhowers or Cronkites or Colin Powells. But usually we settle for something less.

This year, primary voters of both political parties picked presidential nominees who have been fiercely bashed by the other party and frankly belittled (privately and not so privately) by many within their own ranks.

George W. Bush and Al Gore are flawed presidential nominees who were born with name-recognition. They may have been destined to run before they could walk.

One is a Texas governor who can be called the poster-boy for a Thousand Points of Lite, having gotten his first public job just five years ago. His voids of national security inexperience are why internships and apprenticeships were invented. Also: He is a candidate of neo-compassion who sat silently while his allies in the GOP's fringe of haters savaged his primary opponent, John McCain, in South Carolina, willingly choosing to stash his compash until he could right his bandwagon.

The other is a vice president collared by the albatross of a president who trapped himself in lies about sex and who America caught-in-the-act of pretending he didn't know the definition of ''sex'' or ''is.'' You would think that this veep, seeing that sorry spectacle, would make sure he'd never allow himself to appear so transparently duplicitous. Yet this veep joined his boss in making their White House's political money-raising practices seem even more sleazy and scandalous than their predecessors'. Indeed, this veep made himself a figure of ridicule by insisting under oath that he didn't know White House coffees that were attended by billionaire fat-cats were about fund-raising, or even that they were White House coffees. Also: He didn't know that a fund-raiser at a Buddhist temple was a fund-raiser; or that soft-money was soft money.

Now this: It was impossible for a Jewish American of any political persuasion to view Gore's announcement in Nashville on Tuesday of a running mate who is an Orthodox Jew without feeling a special heart-tug of emotion and pride. It was a feeling swelled all the more as Tipper Gore introduced his wife, Hadassah Lieberman, by noting that her parents had been in Nazi concentration camps.

Indeed, one Jew of my acquaintance, a fellow who had fancied himself Bush supporter and is now undecided, even allowed himself to wander into a what-if scenario: He recalled the example of the Democrats' 1968 ticket of Hubert Humphrey and Ed Muskie. Muskie emerged from that losing contest widely hailed as ''Lincolnesque'' - and he became the frontrunner for president four years later (only to be undone by the anti-Vietnam-war candidacy of George McGovern).

There is no-stopping a What-Ifer: What if Gore-Lieberman loses this November but Lieberman shines, he asked. Will the pundits, four years later, label Lieberman the presidential frontrunner and hail him as a Lincolnesque Orthodox Jew?

The image delights. Fast-forward to 2004: Do you see a frontrunner in a stovepipe yarmulke?

( Martin Schram writes political analysis for Scripps Howard News Service.)


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