Presidential candidate Al Gore's selection of Joseph Lieberman as his running mate has drawn fire from music-industry insiders concerned about the Connecticut senator's record as a moral crusader.
"Joseph Lieberman is the worst mistake Gore could have made," said Howie Klein, president of Reprise Records and a longtime opponent of government attempts to censor musical content. "He managed to pick someone to the right of George W. Bush. Gore is either stupid or cynical, either of which should disqualify him for president."
Klein is not alone among Democrats in his condemnation of Lieberman, who has fought alongside such cultural conservatives as anti-rap activist C. DeLores Tucker, who once sued the late Tupac Shakur's mother, claiming her son's explicit rap lyrics ruined her sex life (the case was dismissed).
The entertainment industry has long been a target for Lieberman, chairperson of the moderate Democratic Leadership Council.
He teamed with former drug czar William Bennett in 1998 and began handing out "Silver Sewer Awards" to movies, television programs, music and video games with sexually explicit or violent content. And Lieberman was one of the sponsors of the bill that led to the creation of the v-chip, which allows parents to restrict what their children can view on television.
"He's a self-righteous religious fanatic," said Klein, who said he is leaning toward voting for Green Party candidate Ralph Nader. "If the Democratic Party allows Gore to saddle us with this kind of nut, I won't be able to support the Democratic Party. The party cannot stomp on the progressive beliefs of many of its supporters and expect progressives to still support it."
Echoes Of Tipper
Lieberman's appointment also has resurrected memories of potential first lady Tipper Gore's involvement in the Parents Music Resource Center, which successfully lobbied for the parental advisory stickers now featured on albums containing any "explicit content."
"We know Al and Tipper hate hip-hop. ... They've tried to give themselves face lifts in order to get support from the music industry and young people, but it isn't going to work," said Phyllis Pollack, a publicist for DefPress who has represented artists such as hardcore rappers N.W.A and the Geto Boys.
"With Lieberman you just get more of the same. Al Gore is as much pro-censorship as is his wife, as is Lieberman," Pollack said. "If people want to think that Al Gore is a progressive, well, that just shows their lack of political insight."
In his first public appearance with Gore on Tuesday in Nashville, Lieberman vowed to continue his moral crusade against Hollywood. The senator further defended his culturally conservative positions in an interview that night on "Larry King Live."
"What we have done is reach out and call out to folks in Hollywood and the record industry, the video-game industry, television, and say exercise some self-restraint," Lieberman said. "Bill Bennett and I believe with a fierce devotion in the First Amendment.
"We'd never ask for censorship," he continued. "The most we've done by law and incidentally, Vice President Gore has been a critical supporter of this effort is pass the v-chip, give parents the power to block what they don't want their kids to see, ask the TV stations, and the movies, and the video games and the records to rate the products so parents will know what their kids are buying and can exercise some control.
"This matter is going to be something that Al and Tipper and [my wife] Hadassah and I are going to work on, because we care about [the] moral future of our country."
Rapper/actor Ice-T's musical work has been singled out by activists such as Lieberman for more than a decade.
"My mind has already accepted the fact that censors are going to control politics," said Ice-T, on a break from filming his new role as a New York City cop on NBC's "Law and Order: Special Victims Unit." "There's a real paradox here. On the one hand you don't want to dislike the guy because he's going to be coming up against the whole racist regime because he's Jewish. But you don't wanna like the guy 'cause he's crazy.
"That's why I don't vote," he added. "If God wanted us to vote, he would've given us better candidates."
Gore Not Without Support
Gore does have his supporters in the music industry, including mogul David Geffen, Recording Industry Association of America President Hilary Rosen and Artemis Records President Danny Goldberg.
"It is true that Senator Lieberman has been particularly critical of the entertainment industry," Rosen said in a statement. "While we have disagreed with him at various times, we share the common goal of doing what is right for America's youth."
Others, while not endorsing Lieberman's agenda, think Gore's choice was a smart move politically.
"On a very surface level, it seems like a good move for Al Gore," said Judy Ross, director of A&R for Epic Records. "It's understandable. I mean, they're trying to win. Yes, he has 'morality issues,' but those are based on his religion, and I think he's able to separate his religion from politics to a certain extent. From what I've read, he's a liberal on many issues, such as abortion and gun control."
Still, the perception remains, and likely will linger, that Gore has made a strong move to the center, the traditional battleground for the undecided vote.
Self-described independent Steve Stewart, who has managed such artists as Ice-T and Stone Temple Pilots, said he thinks the selection of Lieberman is "really weird because the guy is a right-wing conservative Democrat. Since it would look odd for Al Gore to nominate his wife as his running mate, perhaps some of Senator Lieberman's pet projects fit in with his politics."
That's exactly what activist Nina Crowley fears most. "It's going to be a rough ride," Crowley, director of anti-censorship group Mass Mic, said. "Combine Lieberman with Tipper Gore, and it makes for a real tough time for free speech. Lieberman is ruthless when it comes to censoring music, particularly black musicians.
"I cannot imagine voting for either Gore or Bush," she said. "Either way, we're in for a long four years."
Spokespersons for Gore and Lieberman could not be reached for comment by press time.
(Staff Writer Teri vanHorn contributed to this report.)