The State [Columbia, SC]

Sunday, February 1, 2004 (Editorial, page D2)

Values, Experience Make Lieberman The Best Choice

THIS TUESDAY, the Palmetto State holds the South's first primary in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination - an important chance for this state to be heard on the direction of that party and of this country. In this field, Sen. Joe Lieberman offers the vision, values and experience that would best serve South Carolina, and the nation, in the White House.

In this primary, voters will pick from among talented candidates. Sen. John Edwards offers a positive, inspirational vision of helping those left behind in our society. He clearly possesses the tools of leadership to use the bully pulpit to draw people to his viewpoint. Sen. John Kerry is thoughtful and time-tested, with a broad, nuanced view of how the United States should engage a world filled with challenges, and some impressive proposals on domestic policy.

But Sen. Lieberman has an outstanding collection of assets: He has formidable experience in elected office, including a track record of building coalitions across party lines to get things done - a skill almost forgotten in today's barbed discourse.  He is a veteran in international circles, a key asset in 2004. He is unafraid to speak about our society's traditional values, or to take unpopular stands. And he believes America can do better for itself and the world.

He has been a strong advocate, for years, of balancing the federal budget. On trade, he has stuck to his belief that free commerce, on balance, enriches this nation, even as many in his party have retreated from that.

His emphasis on the crucial importance of early childhood education mirrors South Carolina's efforts in the past decade. Holding our schools accountable under No Child Left Behind, he realizes, is meaningless without providing more resources to help schools measure up - and to offer opportunity to more Americans.

Many of these laudable stands are shared by some of his rivals. But it is in two categories where Sen. Lieberman stands out, both from his Democratic peers and from President Bush.

Joe Lieberman is a centrist. In the polarized politics of 2004, the sensible mainstream of American views can be a lonely and dangerous place. There are few cable TV talk-fests or Web sites where one garners praise for listening to, much less considering, the views of all sides. But his kind of anchored good sense - rejecting orthodoxies left and right - is exactly what American politics needs more of. The current president promised to do this, and has done nothing like it.

Sen. Lieberman also believes that America cannot retreat from the threats of this world. He believes making repressive nations more free and prosperous is the best way to make the world safer - and that, with more sensible diplomacy, this could be done with more of our allies helping. He believes America is obligated not just to defend our shores, but to share our liberty. For this vital mission, he has the informed global outlook and the diplomatic skills to succeed - two areas where Mr. Bush has fallen short.

Based on results in two other states, Sen. Lieberman is far from the favorite in Tuesday's election. But this early primary is an opportunity for our state to assert its own views and values. We should not be controlled by the status quo of the week.  Why even have a primary, if we're going to let New Hampshire make our decision for us? Regardless of who leads in the polls, Joe Lieberman most deserves South Carolina's support.

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The State Editorial Board:  Ann Caulkins, President/Publisher; Glen Nardi, Vice President/Operations [not present]; Brad Warthen, Vice President/Editorial Page Editor; Warren Bolton, Associate Editor; Cindi Ross Scoppe, Associate Editor; Nina Brook, Associate Editor; Mike Fitts, Editorial Writer.

Brad Warthen provided some background in an Feb. 23, 2004 e-mail:

...the main candidates -- Lieberman, Dean, Edwards, Kerry and Gephardt(before he quit) -- all joined us, as did Carol Moseley Braun (at herrequest). We only invited the ones we considered serious contenders,although we decided to make time for others (such as Ms. Braun) if theyasked for a meeting. Wesley Clark was the only one we invited who nevercame. We just couldn't work out the scheduling.

It was a bit of a crunch, as Dean and Kerry came in on the day we were writing our endorsement (the Friday before the primary, with the endorsement running that Sunday). It messed with our production scheduleand our decision-making -- no time to reflect -- but we particularly wanted to talk to Kerry, so we made allowances. Kerry and Edwards werethe only ones in the end that we seriously considered other than Lieberman.

Then we had a grueling, three-hour debate stretching into late Friday -- which meant we didn't start writing until after most editorial board members would usually have left for the day. The main focus of thedebate was this: Philosophically, Lieberman was unquestionably the closest to our board. (And especially to me. I was a big McCainsupporter, even though I lost that argument in 2000 and we endorsed Bush, and Lieberman and McCain are very close in many ways. So for me,it was like another chance to endorse McCain.) He was also unquestionably going to get creamed, and probably drop out immediately. So some members worried about "wasting" our endorsement. My attitude, however, is that presidential endorsements are an important opportunity for the newspaper to send a signal as to how we view the world, and that meant going with the person closest to us philosophically, even though he had no chance.

That may sound like our newspaper is out of touch with SC voters, or at least SC Democratic Primary voters. Not at all. I believe Lieberman would have done quite well -- maybe not winning, but quite well -- in SCif our primary had been held before Iowa and New Hampshire. (That's what polls had indicated earlier.) But by the time he got here, he had the"loser" label stamped on his forehead. That should have no impact on an endorsement, however. Endorsements are about who SHOULD win, not about who will win.

He also wrote columns on the subject on Feb. 1 ("Lieberman Deserves a Closer Look than He's Gotten So Far") and Feb. 8 ("Here's What We Look for in a Presidential Candidate").