HE DOESN'T FIT the mold.
Joseph I. Lieberman isn't an image-maker's ideal. He's soft-spoken. He's not a riveting speaker. He blends into the background.
But the two-term Connecticut senator has a solid reputation forintegrity. And he has bridged the political gap to work well with Republicans and Democrats.
For Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore, Mr. Lieberman is the ideal surprise choice as a running mate.
That choice shows the vice president wants to re-shape his image and step out of Bill Clinton's shadow.
It was Mr. Lieberman who broke ranks with Democrats and denounced President Clinton's immoral behavior in the Monica Lewinsky scandal. When it comes to integrity and values, Mr. Lieberman won't countenance low standards.
His actions embody the values of his Orthodox Judaism. He has no problem reconciling his deep commitment to his God with his commitment to his elected duties.
It is telling that Republicans have praised the senator. In his first Senate run in 1988, Mr. Lieberman was endorsed by the intellectual father of Republican conservatism, William F. Buckley Jr.
William Bennett, the right-wing guru of morality and values in America, has regularly joined with Mr. Lieberman to condemn "trash
TV," offensive music and excessive sex and violence in movies.
Indeed, the George W. Bush campaign had nothing bad to say about Mr. Lieberman. His moral rectitude and his centrist positions on most issues are hard to attack.
That may be why Mr. Gore turned to him. Just as Mr. Bush's pick of Richard D. Cheney was a decided plus, so is the Lieberman choice. Both have the experience and skills to take over, if needed.
But Mr. Lieberman brings something extra. He reopens the discussion of religious tolerance. Not since John F. Kennedy's election in 1960 has this been a campaign issue. Americans are about to receive an education in orthodox Judaism. Their reaction could tell us much about the maturity and openness of American voters.
Now we await Mr. Gore's big moment at next week's Democratic convention. Given Mr. Bush's strong speech at the close of the GOP convention, Mr. Gore must surpass expectations. It's his turn to set the agenda. If he fails to lay out a compelling case, it could be a bumpy road to November for the Democrats.