Former Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman has died
Politics News

Centrist former Sen. Joseph Lieberman has died at 82

Joseph Lieberman, a centrist former Connecticut senator and onetime Democratic vice presidential nominee, has died, according to a statement from his family. He was 82.


His family said he died Wednesday in New York City due to complications from a fall.


The statement said: “His beloved wife, Hadassah, and members of his family were with him as he passed. Senator Lieberman’s love of God, his family, and America endured throughout his life of service in the public interest.”


As Al Gore’s running mate in 2000, Lieberman became the first Jewish American on the presidential ticket of one of the two major parties. Four years later, Lieberman unsuccessfully sought the Democratic presidential nomination himself.


Lieberman was a centrist, and often angered Democrats. He lost a 2006 Democratic Senate primary in his home state, but won re-election regardless, running as an independent. In 2008 he supported Republican John McCain’s unsuccessful presidential bid.


In 2011, when he announced he wouldn’t seek a fifth term as senator, he said: “I have not always fit comfortably into conventional political boxes — Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative.


I have always thought that my first responsibility is not to serve a political party but to serve my constituents, my state and my country, and then to work across party lines to make sure good things get done for them.”


Lieberman’s continued support of the Iraq War antagonized many Democrats.


The Democratic candidate he beat in the 2006 Senate race, Ned Lamont, is now Connecticut governor, and he alluded to Lieberman’s support of the war in a statement Wednesday:


“While the senator and I had our political differences, he was a man of integrity and conviction, so our debate about the Iraq War was serious. I believe we agreed to disagree from a position of principle.


When the race was over, we stayed in touch as friends in the best traditions of American democracy. He will be missed.”


In recent years, Lieberman served as founding chairman of the centrist group No Labels that is floating a “unity ticket” for the 2024 presidential race — an effort that has drawn criticism as being a potential spoiler for the major parties.


In a statement, No Labels said Lieberman’s “unexpected passing is a profound loss for all of us.”


Senate career


Lieberman started his national political career in 1988, earning his first US Senate win with an unconventional ticket. He ran as a Democrat but was backed by prominent conservatives like pundit William F Buckley Jr.


Joseph Lieberman
Former Senator Joe Lieberman speaks about the 2024 election at National Press Club in Washington on January 18, 2024

A News  article that year captured the surprise at the odd-couple pairing: “Buckleys Are Backing A Democrat?”


But the alliance proved to be a fruitful one. Lieberman – who had previously served as a state senator – squeaked out a narrow win against three-time incumbent Republican Lowell Weicker Jr, who was considered the favourite to win.


Once in office, Lieberman continued to work both sides of the aisle. In 1990, for instance, he rallied bipartisan support for amendments to strengthen the Clean Air Act.


He also championed efforts to restrict violence in video games, pledging to develop a government rating system for the industry if it did not do so itself.


“Few parents would buy these games for their kids if they really knew what was in them,” Lieberman told reporters in 1993.


His advocacy helped forge the Entertainment Software Rating Board, a self-regulating arm of the gaming industry.


It was one of many moves Lieberman made in his attempts to represent the moral high ground in the US cultural discourse.


Another example came in 1998 when then-President Clinton found himself engulfed in long-running sexual assault allegations and questions of misconduct.


Joseph Lieberman-A hawkish track record


Critics often cite Gore’s decision to choose Lieberman as his running mate in the 2000 presidential race as an effort to distance the Democratic ticket from the scandal of the Clinton years.


It was also an appeal to the political centre: Lieberman had backed several traditionally conservative issues, including by supporting school voucher programmes, something many Democrats feared would imperil funds for public schools.


Joseph Lieberman
Al Gore and Joe Lieberman rally together for the US presidency in Jackson, Tennessee, on October 25, 2000

Though the Gore-Lieberman ticket ultimately failed to win the presidency in 2000, Lieberman still managed to hang onto his Senate seat that year: Connecticut law allowed him to run in both races at the same time.


But the attacks on September 11, 2001, would highlight Lieberman’s track record for hawkishness – something that would ultimately lead to his political decline.


Lieberman had previously shown a hawkish streak: In 1991, he co-sponsored a bill that authorised the use of military force in the Gulf War. He also backed the 1998 Iraq Liberation Act, which supported efforts to remove Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. He was one of only two Senate Democrats to do so.


So when the administration of Republican President Bush announced its intention to invade Iraq in 2003, as part of his post 9/11 “war on terror”, Lieberman was a vocal supporter.


In an interview with CBS’s Face the Nation, he echoed talking points that Hussein was harbouring weapons of mass destruction, and therefore the invasion was necessary.


“We know he had enormous quantities that were never accounted for. And that’s why we’ve got to continue to look for them,” Lieberman said.


Those claims, however, were later shown to come from flawed or exaggerated intelligence reports.


Lieberman also helmed efforts to create the Department of Homeland Security, another part of the US’s response to the 9/11 attacks. Its mission was to “secure the United States from terrorist threats or attacks”, but critics warned it would violate civil rights protections and other civilian privacy measures.


Speaking to the New York Times in 2005, Lieberman acknowledged that his stance on the 2003 Iraq invasion had sown division in the Democratic Party.


“Some Democrats said I was being a traitor,” he told the newspaper, though he credited some of the backlash to the divisiveness of party politics.


Joseph Lieberman-Political decline


Lieberman briefly jumped into the 2004 presidential race, running in the Democratic Party primaries in the hopes of unseating the Republican Bush.


The “American dream is in jeopardy”, he said as he announced his presidential campaign. He added that US ideals were “threatened by hate-filled terrorists and tyrants from abroad”, as well as a limp economy.


But his campaign quickly sputtered, with poor showings in early-voting states like New Hampshire. Lieberman departed the race in February 2004.


Two years later, in 2006, Lieberman faced defeat in the Democratic primary as he sought re-election to the US Senate. He lost the party vote in Connecticut to businessman Ned Lamont, who ran on an anti-war platform.


Joseph Lieberman
Joe Lieberman speaks at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, on January 18, 2024

Undeterred by his primary loss, Lieberman continued his campaign as an independent, facing Lamont again in the general election. That vote, he won, propelling him to his final term as senator.


Just as he had in his early years, Lieberman sought both Republican and Democratic support to secure his victory.


But facing the prospect of another bruising campaign season in 2012, Lieberman announced his retirement instead.


“I know that some people have said that if I ran for re-election, it would be a difficult campaign for me. But what else is new? It probably would be,” he admitted in his 2011 retirement speech. But he added that, in many of his previous elections, the odds were stacked against him.


“With a lot of help from Independents, Democrats and Republicans – including many of you here today – in each case, I did win.”


Lieberman’s bipartisan bona fides made him briefly a candidate to join Republican Senator John McCain in his bid for the presidency in 2008. But conservative strategists prevailed upon McCain to choose Republican Governor Sarah Palin instead.


Despite his diminished sway in the Democratic Party, Lieberman continued to be a figure in national politics, even after his retirement from the Senate. As part of his work, he continued to push for centrism – and a move away from partisan divides.


In working with the No Labels movement ahead of the 2024 presidential election, Lieberman confronted the possibility of going head-to-head with his former Senate colleague: President Joe Biden. The Democratic president is seeking re-election this November.


“I have a lot of respect and a lot of affection for Joe Biden,” Lieberman told The Associated Press in 2023. “But I think the country and particularly young people are asking for a third choice.”



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