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    Thursday, July 25, 2024

    Joe Lieberman did it his way

    We will probably never again see the likes of Joe Lieberman in American politics. The nation is poorer for that.

    Joseph I. Lieberman was a giant in Connecticut politics. His political career started with an upset in a state Senate primary and reached its pinnacle with his nomination as Al Gore’s Democratic running mate in the 2000 presidential election. The first Jewish candidate on a major-party presidential ticket, Lieberman came so very close to winning.

    The Gore-Lieberman ticket prevailed in the popular vote by a half-million. But George W. Bush and Dick Cheney won the electoral college tally when the Supreme Court halted the Florida ballot recount, awarding the state to the Republican ticket. Though vehemently disagreeing with it, Gore and Lieberman accepted the court’s decision. That is how patriotic statesmen act.

    Joe Lieberman died Wednesday. The family attributed his death to a fall. He was 82.

    Lieberman was a man of conviction guided by a deep moral code.

    While attending Yale in 1963, Lieberman joined a contingent of Northern white students traveling into the Deep South for the cause of civil rights. In Mississippi they encouraged Black residents to register to vote, while encountering firsthand the hatred that underpinned Jim Crow laws.

    In 1998, after President Bill Clinton was forced to come clean about his sexual liaisons with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, Lieberman set aside politics and friendship to express his disgust.

    “Such behavior is not just inappropriate,” said Lieberman, speaking on the Senate floor. “It is immoral.”

    How different from today when so many political leaders willingly overlook and excuse immoral behavior when it is politically convenient to do so.

    In 1970 Lieberman had begun his political career in shocking fashion by unseating Ed Marcus in a primary. At the time, Marcus was the state Senate’s Democratic majority leader. Helping direct Lieberman’s primary win was a politically savvy Yale law student — Bill Clinton.

    Lieberman would go on to become state Senate majority leader. He later ran successfully for attorney general. In that office he gained a reputation as a consumer warrior and environmental advocate.

    In 1988 he won election to the U.S. Senate, ultimately serving four terms.

    Lieberman legislated from the political center, an approach that is nearing extinction in Washington. He was a leader in the “new Democrats” movement of the time. These Democrats pushed for the party to become more business friendly on regulatory matters and they took budget management seriously, while adhering to traditional Democratic values on civil rights and the environment.

    He was a politician who would disagree but not denigrate.

    The Day editorially would clash with the senator and his foreign policy approach, which the editorial board saw as overly interventionist and militaristic. The Day editorially opposed the 2002 decision to invade Iraq. Lieberman was among its biggest Democratic advocates.

    Lieberman’s hawkish policies lost him support within the Democratic party. In 2006, seeking a fourth term, he lost the party primary to antiwar candidate Ned Lamont, now the Connecticut governor.

    Knowing he had broad support across party lines — he was a leader in the successful fight to save the submarine base in Groton after the Navy threatened to close it — Lieberman stayed in the race. He won the general election, running on the “Connecticut for Lieberman” ballot line.

    The break with his party was sharp. Lieberman shocked Democrats in 2008 by endorsing Republican Sen. John McCain and turning a cold shoulder to Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. But in Lieberman fashion, differences were set aside as Lieberman proved a pivotal partner in helping President Obama pass the Affordable Care Act and end the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that had forced many military personnel to deny their very nature.

    Among Lieberman’s greatest legacies was leading the effort to create a Department of Homeland Security after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. It consolidated 22 federal agencies to better protect the nation and respond to disasters. For much of his time in the Senate he chaired the Homeland Security Committee.

    In his last meeting with The Day editorial board before leaving the Senate, Lieberman talked of his deep concern about cybersecurity threats. That threat has yet to be adequately addressed.

    Senator Chris Murphy, Lieberman’s successor, well summed up the career of this unique public servant.

    “In an era of political carbon copies, Joe Lieberman was a singularity. He fit into no political box. He defied party orthodoxy. He simply did what he believed to be right for the country and what was right for the state he adored.”

    The Day editorial board meets with political, business and community leaders to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Timothy Dwyer, Executive Editor Izaskun E. Larraneta, Owen Poole, copy editor, and Lisa McGinley, retired deputy managing editor. The board operates independently from The Day newsroom.

    Comment threads are monitored for 48 hours after publication and then closed.