Senator Joe Lieberman said goodbye to the Senate yesterday on the anniversary of the Supreme Court ruling that handed the presidency to George W. Bush in 2000. The 12 years between Al Gore’s last stand and the oratorical conclusion of Lieberman’s decades in the Senate is a very compelling frame through which recent American history can viewed.
At the center of it all was Lieberman, who went from a tragic figure to a failed presidential candidate in 2004 to a polarizing and hawkish asset for the Bush administration following the invasion of Iraq. For this, Lieberman became a pariah within his own party and was spurned by his liberal Connecticut base, a group on which he exacted revenge when he ran as an independent and crushed Ned Lamont, the man who beat him in the state’s Democrat primary.
Lieberman went on to endorse his friend John McCain in his failed presidential bid, giving a big address at the 2008 Republican National Convention and remaining a symbolic enough figure to enter the conversation about McCain’s potential running mates. Following McCain’s drubbing, Lieberman opposed progressive aspects of the Obama healthcare reform bill that he initially supported and worked to repeal the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy he had once championed in the 90s. He remained a hawkish voice who frequently voted democratic. In the highly atomized political climate that the era created, an era especially unforgiving to moderates, Lieberman–for better or worse–stood alone until the very end.
Notably, the Senate chamber yesterday was nearly empty. As Dana Milbank observed:
The sparse attendance wasn’t unusual for a farewell speech, but it was a sad send-off for a man who was very close in 2000 to becoming a major figure in American political history as the first Jew on a major party’s national ticket. He was denied the vice presidency not by the voters but by the Supreme Court. As he joked in his farewell speech, he was “grateful to have received a half-million more votes than my opponent on the other side — but that’s a longer story.”
A much longer story.
Joe Lieberman’s Sad Send-off [WaPo]
Adam Chandler was previously a staff writer at Tablet. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, Slate, Esquire, New York, and elsewhere. He tweets @allmychandler.