It was altogether fitting that Sen. Joe Lieberman made his retirement announcement the same week that America remembered the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s inauguration.
Lieberman readily admits that President Kennedy — and his 1961 inaugural plea, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” — motivated him to enter what turned out to be a long and productive career in service to the nation.
Thankfully, people of Lieberman’s caliber and character have entered public service.
I was pleased to join Sen. Lieberman on the afternoon of his retirement announcement. He was gracious to give Newsmax his first video interview that day, sharing his thoughts about the past and future. Indeed, his has been a remarkable life.
As a 1967 graduate of Yale Law School, Lieberman could have written his own ticket in a top white-shoe New York law firm. Instead, he chose another path. At the young age of 28 he ran for the Connecticut state Senate, spending a decade there before winning the state’s attorney general post in 1983.
In that job, he developed a reputation as being tough on crime and long on bipartisanship, and he won plaudits for protecting the interests of consumers while keeping the environment safe.
Lieberman stepped out onto the national stage in 1988 when he won a stunning victory over incumbent Republican Sen. Lowell Weicker.
Surprisingly, during the campaign Lieberman won the support of conservative icon William F. Buckley, who called him a “moderate Democrat” and joked that “it is always possible that he will progress in the right direction.”
Through his career, Lieberman has consistently won praise from almost every political quarter because he is honest and straightforward. Only a few political figures seem to hold such magnetism. Ed Koch comes to mind.
Like Koch, Lieberman is a liberal. But unlike some liberals, he doesn’t see an ideological component to every issue, especially those involving the nation’s security and foreign policy.
Because of his centrist approach on such issues, I believe, Lieberman was picked by Al Gore as his running mate for the 2000 presidential campaign.
At the time Gore made the announcement, he was way down in the polls and there were fears that Lieberman’s Jewish faith might negatively impact the Democratic ticket, stoking latent anti-Semitism. But such fears proved unwarranted.
When Americans got to know the real Joe Lieberman, a man of decency and faith, they liked what they saw. In fact, Gore’s poll numbers skyrocketed.
Although the 2000 race was heated, to say the least, Lieberman demonstrated his nonpartisanship.
During the difficult recount period, the Gore campaign was moving to stop military ballots from being counted in the Florida recount. Lieberman went on national television and said that was wrong, those ballots should be counted.
Later, after George W. Bush was declared the winner, Lieberman, amazingly, broke with many in his party to embrace Bush, supporting his war on terror policies.
This alienated many liberal Democrats, and Lieberman lost his 2006 Senate Democratic primary to Ned Lamont.
Lieberman stuck to his guns, however, and ran for re-election as an independent. Interestingly, he won handily, backed by a broad coalition including independents, blue-collar Democrats and Republicans.
Independent-Democrat Lieberman even garnered support from 70 percent of Connecticut GOP voters.
Back in the Senate, Lieberman has remained a unifying voice of reason. Again, in 2008, he demonstrated a remarkable profile in courage by crossing the party aisle to endorse John McCain for president in 2008, even delivering an address at the Republican National Convention.
Lieberman knew that would hurt him politically, but he told Newsmax in his recent interview that he backed the GOP candidate because he was “best prepared” for the presidency. Lieberman always wanted what was best for the country.
Some of my Republican friends point out that Lieberman’s voting record was and remains quite Democratic. Of course, they are right. But he has never voted like an automaton.
Take, for example, the Obama healthcare plan. Lieberman voted for it. But he used the leverage of his swing vote to kill the most insidious part of the plan: the public option. I have no doubt that the public option would have led to the demise of private health insurance. We can thank Lieberman’s principled position for saving private healthcare.
At his press conference announcing his retirement, Lieberman referenced Kennedy’s inspiration. He also noted that many in the Democratic Party had gone astray of the ideals of the late president.
“The politics of President Kennedy — service to country, support of civil rights and social justice, pro-growth economic and tax policies, and a strong national defense — are still my politics,” Lieberman said, “and they don’t fit neatly into today’s partisan political boxes anymore, either.”
Such views may not fit into partisan boxes, but most Americans share many of these views and want political leaders of Joe Lieberman’s ilk.
President Kennedy offered no “term limit” on his clarion call for service, so I still expect another act on the national stage from Joe Lieberman after the Senate curtain falls.
Editor’s Note: To read Newsmax’s exclusive interview with Joe Lieberman on the day of his retirement — Click Here Now.
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