Lieberman would bring reputation as maverick, reformer

Joe Lieberman, the Republicans' favorite Democrat, has won widespread respect for his maverick political style. But it's an impulse he'll have to control if he's elected to the follow-the-leader post of Vice President.

"His identity will cease to be independent, feisty Joe Lieberman, and it will become Lt. Joe Lieberman, serving Al Gore," predicted Michael Nelson, a political science professor at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tenn., and expert on the vice presidency.

There's little argument from the Lieberman crew. "Lieberman has a healthy appreciation of the fact that he [would be] Vice President," said Michael Lewan, Lieberman's former chief of staff and an informal adviser. "I think Vice President Lieberman will be a very good loyal soldier to a President Gore. I would be very surprised if the time came that he disagreed publicly."

The lieutenant role would tap some of Lieberman's strengths, such as communications. Al From, president of the Democratic Leadership Council, the New Democrats' home base, said one of Lieberman's chief responsibilities would be as "a salesman for the President's positions on the road." From also suggested that Gore and Lieberman's longtime friendship and mutual respect would ensure that Lieberman would become the "No. 1 adviser to Gore."

President Clinton allowed Gore to carve out his own territory in areas such as reinventing government, and Gore will have to decide whether he'll give Lieberman comparable policy responsibilities. The catch is that Gore and Lieberman's areas of expertise-such as the environment and government reorganization-overlap, so it's not clear how Gore would handle the division of labor. And some of Lieberman's past positions in other areas, such as education policy, affirmative action, and Social Security, are at odds with Gore's. But don't expect differences to be aired in public.

"The real thing to watch is, will the Gore team allow Lieberman to do what he did in the Senate on the whole sort of decaying of moral values in America?" Lewan said. "Down the road, that would be an indicator [of his clout] because I can tell you he believes in that passionately [and] he knows it's good politics."

Another issue Lieberman could take on is that of "ombudsman for the military" on such issues as military reform and readiness, said Ross K. Baker, a professor of public policy at Rutgers University. He said the "super-inspector general" role would make use of Lieberman's interpersonal skills and could be applied to other policy areas as well. Lewan suggested Lieberman might also serve well as the Administration's emissary to the business community.

Given Gore and Lieberman's personal chemistry, several Democrats said Gore is likely to hold the same kind of weekly lunch meetings with Lieberman that he himself has enjoyed with Clinton. "As long as he has the ability to express his views inside, it won't be a problem," From said.

Several New Democrats suggested that Lieberman's most effective backstage role would be as congressional deal-maker. "Senator Lieberman, by virtue of his political independence and preference for bipartisan problem-solving, would be a pretty good envoy to Capitol Hill," said Will Marshall, president of the Progressive Policy Institute, the DLC's think tank. "He could assist President Gore in assembling a center-out coalition."

But Nelson cautioned against the assumption that Lieberman can carry his bipartisan reputation into the executive branch. "Gore is regarded in Washington as a very partisan figure," he said. "The moment [Lieberman] becomes Gore's Vice President, he'll be in the same line of fire."

The earliest indicators of Lieberman's influence will probably come in the area of staffing-whether Lieberman's political soul mates make their way onto the transition team and later into the Administration. Lewan joked that Lieberman's influence will be clear if former Reagan Education Secretary and Lieberman ally (until recently) William Bennett gets an Administration post.

And how well the Lieberman and Gore staffs play together will also point to the degree to which Lieberman's views are being heard. Some names of Lieberman loyalists circulated for probable White House jobs include: William G. Andresen Jr., Lieberman's current chief of staff; William B. Bonvillian, Lieberman's legislative director and longtime friend; Nao Matsukata, Lieberman's adviser on trade and economic matters, who is the only staff person Lieberman asked to travel with him; Jim Kennedy, a former Lieberman aide who is now press secretary in the Vice President's office; Frederick M. Downey, Lieberman's aide for defense and foreign affairs; Dan Gerstein, Lieberman's press secretary, who has taken leave from his Senate job to be his boss' communications director on the campaign trail; and Lewan.

Then there's the issue of Lieberman's own readiness. "There's the imperative of preparing the Vice President to take your place," said Marshall. "If a Vice President is not given serious responsibilities, he's going to be handicapped."