Be sure to listen to more excerpts from Senator Lieberman's remarks at the end of this article.
Even if you ignored the big cameras and notebooks, you could tell who was a member of the press and who wasn't. The journalists were the only people in the crowd who pay into social security (as oppose to collect it) or celebrate Christmas (as opposed to Chanukah - with the exception of yours truly. For full disclosure for purposes of this article, I am Jewish.) About 300 senior citizens filled the seats at the Chabad Lubavitch of Boynton Beach Hebrew School. I would say it's a safe bet to say that 99% of Wednesday's audience was Jewish.
Most of the people with whom I talked were not necessarily McCain supporters. When asked who in the room was a republican, a smattering of people raised their hands. Most had come to see Senator Joseph Lieberman (D/I - CT) and hear what he has to say about McCain. They like and respect Lieberman because he is a strong supporter for the State of Israel. Maurice Forman told me that whoever gets Israel the jets, gets his vote. He also said that his diehard Democrat dad would be turning in his grave if he knew Maurice voted for G.W. Bush.
Senator Lieberman arrived on Jewish time, fashionably late. He was in South Carolina in the morning and this was his first stop on a 2-day tour through South Florida. The senator received an expected warm welcome when his host, Rabbi Sholom Ciment, Spiritual Leader and Director of Chabad Lubavitch of Greater Boynton, introduced the senator. The audience kvelled (Yiddish for joyful marveling) when the Chabad's children presented the senator with a silver pushke (charity box.) The senator was among friends.
Senator Lieberman receives a pushke (charity box) from the Chabad's children. Inscribed on the silver box is the phrase "on behalf of our glorious United States of America." Senator Lieberman shares laugh with babes.
Lieberman spoke of the friendship and commonalities of the United States and Israel, i.e. their common values as outlined in the Bill of Rights and the Torah. Then he warned of the Islamic radical terrorist threat to those values, which is the basis of his support for Senator McCain.
Lieberman said, "I'm supporting John McCain because I believe that of all the candidates of either party...he is the one best prepared to be commander in chief of the United States on day one when he's sworn in to lead us to victory, to protect our security, to protect our freedom and to protect that of Israel and our other allies around the world than any of the other candidates." Lieberman explained that he crossed party lines for two reasons: 1) because he knows and respects John McCain and 2) "the country is more important than political parties. Partisan interests are not more important than the public interest and John McCain never hesitated to work across party lines."
And the audience clapped. Interesting. The first clap of the night wasn't for the tough talk or the riff about the protection of the State of Israel (although there wasn't an opening for clapping at that moment) . The first clap of the night was for the line about I'm-tired-of the-partisan-bickering-in-Congress.
Several women with whom I spoke to afterwards also crossed party lines because of their beliefs. Bettie Weiser, Selma Frank, Vivienne Schneider, and Elaine Lipman are all Democrats that are going Republican. Betty said, "We're not voting a party line we're voting a person and that's the proper way to go." Selma Frank echoed her friend "that's the proper way to go is cross the party line." They all agreed that Senator McCain is a hero, intelligent, strong and is a good friend to Israel.
Senator Lieberman was careful not to forget about the Democrats in the audience... he did say one sentence about big issues that need solving, i.e. the economy, health care, the environment and the long term strength of social security and Medicare.
When it was time for questions, the audience had questions about the social security surplus, a potential draft, and when the men and women are coming home from Iraq (soft applause here) and the senator gave decent (solve before a crisis and no on the draft) and sometimes diplomatic answers (20,000 troops home by April, but nothing about the rest of them).
But the question that stuck with me had nothing to do with Lieberman or McCain. It was the 'what about Barack Hussein Obama's Muslim background" question. I heard several people refer to Obama as Barack HUSSEIN Obama, yes with an emphasis on 'Hussein.' Senator Lieberman deflected gracefully, "I urge people to look at his record. He's a gifted person. I've served with him." Then Lieberman played the experience card, "I think I can safely say in this room, it's not so bad to have a few years under your belt. Right. (laughter.) There is some wisdom that comes with age."
Ah yes, McCain's age. He's 71. Leiberman said that when people ask about his [McCain's] age, McCain's first answer is that he has a mother who is 95. And Lieberman made an appropriate funny, "As they say in the McCain family, McCain-a-Hora." (For those of you not in the know, kain-a-hora is Yiddish for way-to-go...more or less. Did I get that right grandma?)
Leiberman on the war in Iraq.
Leiberman discusses Israel
Leiberman's thoughts on social security