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Conventional Morality

August 14, 2000



The Democrats' traditionally wide tent couldn't get much wider.

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Al Gore picked an outspoken critic of Hollywood morality as his running mate, and will ask the party's Hollywood donors to bless his choice at the convention in Los Angeles this week.

But like Daniel in the lion's den, Joseph Lieberman won't be eaten up by Hollywood - despite his past warnings of congressional action if the entertainment industry continues to "market death and degradation to our children."

Hollywood's elite are too Democratic, and, besides, Mr. Lieberman was chosen by Mr. Gore for another moral purpose. An early Democratic critic of the Lewinsky affair, the respected Connecticut senator was selected to help distance the vice president from that Clinton legacy.

Gore is obviously worried that George W. Bush's promise "to restore honor and integrity" to the White House might actually sing with voters who believe Bill Clinton's moral lapses tainted the vice president.

By picking Lieberman, Gore used the Clinton tactic of "protective imitation" - blunting an opponent's strong points by partially mimicking them. In trying to deflate "the character issue," he hopes the party's convention can then highlight real policy differences with the Republicans on such issues as healthcare and Social Security.

The vice president, however, almost lost the moral mantle at the last minute when a key convention speaker planned an event at the Playboy mansion. After much pressure, the location was changed, but not without highlighting that fact that Gore has accepted campaign contributions from Playboy's Hugh Hefner and his daughter.

Such incidents show how difficult it may be to downplay the morality issue in this campaign, whether it concerns the movie and TV business or private behavior in Washington.

Ever since last year's massacre at Colorado's Columbine High School, more Democrats, despite the party's Hollywood links, have embraced the problem of mass culture adversely influencing children. In fact, the Democratic platform includes a "Responsible Entertainment" provision that describes an American media culture "that sometimes seems to practically scream that chaos and cruelty are cool." It asks the entertainment industry to "accept more responsibility and exercise more self-restraint."

Lieberman, who describes himself as a "culture warrior," has held hearings on TV and film-industry practices and proposed new ratings systems. He wants the industry to "reflect our common values."

Moral issues aside, Hollywood probably deserves to be on the national agenda just because it's a big political spender. Even before this week's fundraising galas, Hollywood's elite had provided Gore with 3 percent of his campaign war chest (1 percent for Bush). Still, both parties are hoping to win over parents seeking help to curb the influence on their children of sexually explicit and violent content in movies, TV, and music.

By taking Mr. Lieberman to Hollywood, the vice president will likely strengthen the senator's cause in Washington.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society