LOS ANGELES -- Offering his life as a parable of America's promise, Joseph I. Lieberman accepted the Democratic vice presidential nomination Wednesday night with a vow to "break down the barriers" that limit the nation's possibilities.
On the night the Democratic National Convention also affirmed Al Gore as the party's presidential standard-bearer, Lieberman stepped into history as the first Jew installed on a major party's national ticket.
He marveled at the moment. "Is America a great country or what?" the U.S. senator from Connecticut said in his very first words from the podium. The crowd inside Staples Center roared its affirmation.
Lieberman's appearance capped a day that offered a mix of messages, alternately slashing and sentimental, transcendent and truculent.
For the city of Los Angeles, it was a day of democracy on a split screen: hermetically sealed and carefully scripted inside Staples Center; occasionally raw and unruly on the streets outside.
In his highly personal address, which held the packed house in his thrall, Lieberman hearkened to the memories that hang over much of the week's proceedings. He recalled that it was in Los Angeles that John F. Kennedy was nominated on the way to becoming the nation's first Roman Catholic president.
"It was 40 years ago when we came to this city and together crossed a new frontier," Lieberman said. "... Tonight I believe that our next frontier isn't just in front of us, but inside us -- to overcome the differences that are still between us, to break down the barriers that remain and to help every American claim the possibilities of their our own God-given lives."
"... That's why I believe that the time has come to tear down the remaining walls of discrimination in this nation, walls of discrimination based on race, gender and sexual orientation."
Lieberman specifically reached out to blacks suspicious of his positions on some social issues. He recounted his work in the civil rights movement as a youth and enunciated the Clinton administration's approach to affirmative action, saying "Mend it, but please don't end it."
He performed one of his most important functions as Gore's running mate, vouching for the personal character of the vice president, who is still struggling to slough off the taint of the Clinton administration's scandals.
"I have known Al for 15 years. I know his record and I know his heart," Lieberman said. "... I can tell you that Al Gore is a man of family and faith ... Al Gore is a man of courage and conviction."
Lieberman also took up the customary cudgel of the vice presidential running mate, attacking the Republican ticket and the show of diversity at their national convention.
"Let's be honest. We may be near Hollywood tonight, but not since Tom Hanks won an Oscar has there been that much acting in Philadelphia," Lieberman said. His reference to the film about an AIDS sufferer brought delegates and others in the hall -- including Hollywood luminaries Ed Asner, Rob Reiner, Ron Howard and Sean Penn -- to their feet.
Gore officially secured the nomination in a suspenseless roll call that concluded with Florida's 186 delegates putting him over the top. Delegates leaped to their feet and danced to a salsa beat, amid a sea of bobbing blue "Gore" signs.
He was nominated by his friend and former college roommate, actor Tommy Lee Jones, who described Gore as "a good, caring, loving man" and reminisced about time spent shooting pool, watching Star Trek and "chasing through the woods with coon dogs" on visits to Gore's native Tennessee.
Seconding Gore's nomination in a similarly personal vein was his oldest daughter, 27-year-old Karenna Gore Schiff, who recounted the buttered toast he made for breakfast, the hot chocolate he fetched during a cold-night camp-out and his emergency run for Q-tips, Play-Doh and construction paper for a last-minute school project.
But she also struck a more partisan tone, saying her father's election was needed to ensure a clean environment, expand the availability of health care and protect a women's right to have an abortion.
"I hope for the sake of our country and our future that my father is elected president," she said.
As she concluded, Gore rushed onto the podium and swept her into his arms. She pulled back as if surprised, though the appearance was planned. Arm-in-arm, they took a spin around the podium, waving and high-fiving and applauding each other, as Stevie Wonder sang "You Are the Sunshine of My Life."
Gore had swooped into town hours earlier. He was greeted in Burbank by a clutch of dignitaries, including California Gov. Gray Davis and Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, who scuttled across the hot tarmac to form a receiving line for Air Force 2.
Mariachi music blasted from the speakers as several hundred supporters waved American flags. "I love California!" Gore exulted, no doubt mindful of his leg up on the state's 54 electoral votes. "The future starts in California. The victory starts in California!"
The mood was giddy, notwithstanding the sweltering heat inside a packed airport hangar. At one point, Lieberman shouted a line he'd saved for days, a play on Ronald Reagan's sentimental signature: "Will you help me win one for the Tipper?"
After a party at nearby Warner Bros. Studios with the Tennessee and Connecticut delegations, Gore retired to a hotel suite to continue working on the acceptance speech he will give Thursday night.
Inside Staples Center, where the images were as carefully controlled as the movie-set lighting, Wednesday's official convention program was intended to serve two purposes.
One was to flesh out the biography of Gore, a man known to most voters as the second-in-command to a larger-than-life president. The other was to continue drawing a distinction on the issues that separate the two major parties.
Governor Davis, in his speaking spot, served double duty. He offered this staccato summation: "Vietnam veteran. A Congressman. Senator. Vice president. Faithful husband. Devoted father."
Then Davis swung into an attack on GOP nominee George W. Bush's stance on issues from abortion to gun control to public education. "My friends, this election is a choice between the past and the future," Davis said. "Between the right wing and the mainstream."
What gave the evening great moment, however, was the nomination of Lieberman.
In an affectionate introduction, his wife, Hadassah, described "my Joey" as "just a regular Joe" -- a man grounded in "family, faith, neighborhood, congregation and community."
Lieberman then used the next 31 minutes to introduce America to himself and his family, speaking in a warm, familiar fashion about a grandmother who fled religious persecution in Central Europe, and a father who drove a bakery truck and ran a small business in Stamford, Conn.
"Sometimes, I try to see this world as my dad saw it from his bakery truck," Lieberman said in one of the most moving passages. "About this time, he'd be getting ready for the all-night run.
"And I know that somewhere in America right now, there is another father loading a bakery truck, or a young woman programming a computer ... If we keep the faith, then 40 years from now one of their children will stand before a gathering like this, with a chance to serve and lead this country that we love so dearly."
Lieberman blended his parables and professions of faith with several shots at the Republicans. As Connecticut's attorney general, he said, he fought polluters and "even sued big oil companies who were trying to gouge consumers at the pump" -- a sly reference to the oil company backgrounds of Bush and running mate Dick Cheney. The swipe drew appreciative chants of, "Go, Joe, go!"
He criticized Bush's record as governor of Texas on health care and the environment as well as proposals on education, tax cuts and Social Security. "Under their plan, the middle class gets a little and the wealthy get an awful lot," Lieberman charged.
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