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March 2024 – Hero of the Month: Senator Joe Lieberman

My great grandfather was elected Speaker of the Iowa House of Representatives by a unanimous vote of Republicans and Democrats in the 1890s and later went on to become Attorney General of Iowa, again receiving substantial bi-partisan support. It is hard to imagine in today’s polarized political environment. Except for Joe Lieberman. He is the only man in history to have narrowly lost the Vice-Presidency as a Democrat (Gore-Lieberman 2000) and then come extremely close to being selected by John McCain as his running mate in 2008. (Under pressure from the right side of the GOP, McCain chose Sarah Palin. I have a hunch if he could have done a “do-over” he would have rejected their advice.)

Senator Joe died this month at the age of 82 after a distinguished career in public service. (Itself a descriptive phrase not heard very often any more.)

Please reflect on these hallmarks of his career:

  • He was a life-long supporter of civil rights, gay rights, environmental causes and many other progressive policies.
  • He traveled to the South in the 1960s to march for civil rights. 
  • He went on to attend Yale Law School and was a well respected and overwhelming choice early in his career as Attorney General of Connecticut. In 1988, he prevailed over popular moderate incumbent Republican Lowell Weicker and was elected to the US Senate.
  • Joe gave a memorable and controversial speech (in the eyes of some of his Democratic colleagues)  on the Senate floor in 1998 calling out President Clinton  for his “disgraceful behavior” in the Lewinski matter and then later voted against impeachment because he felt Clinton’s behavior did not constitute an impeachable offense under the Constitution. 
  • Al Gore said: “It was an honor to have him as my Vice-Presidential partner on the campaign trail in 2000.”
  • When he supported President Bush’s request for war authorization on Iraq  in 2002 (as did Prime Minister Tony Blair, Hilary Clinton and many other Democratic senators), the Democratic Party kingmakers in his home state of Connecticut were infuriated and ran Ned Lamont against his bid for re-election to the Senate  in the primary in 2006. Lamont won, Lieberman then filed as an Independent and beat Lamont in the general election. To top that off, Joe and Lamont eventually became friends after their grueling and contentious race and Lamont spoke eloquently in expressing his condolences upon news of Joe’s death.
  • Harry Reid, paid tribute to Joe when he retired from the Senate in 2012, saying: “Regardless of our differences, I have never doubted Joe Lieberman’s principles or his patriotism and I always respected his independent streak, as it stemmed from strong convictions.”
  • The former chair of the Connecticut Democratic Party said at his passing: “He was the most genuine, honest, straightforward politician you would probably ever meet. What you saw is what you got. He did not move because it was where the wind wanted to be that day. He stayed strong in what he believed in his heart and in his mind.”
  • Joe was always for a strong national defense and a self-proclaimed “hawk” in foreign affairs, Chair of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and a frequent traveler with John McCain and Lindsey Graham on fact-finding missions around the globe.

Truly hard to image anyone like him will ever come out of the shadows to achieve what he did by working both sides of the aisle in the future of the Senate. But one can hope.

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