Joe Lieberman, Conn. senator and first Jewish VP nominee, dead at 82

Lieberman won the adoration of the Jewish community during his 2000 vice- presidential campaign

Joe Lieberman, a former longtime Connecticut senator who made history as the first Jewish candidate on a major presidential ticket, igniting a surge of pride in the Jewish community, died on Wednesday. He was 82. He died of complications from a fall, according to his family.

An Orthodox Jew who observed stringent rules around kashrut and Shabbat, Lieberman didn’t compromise his religious observance during his political career. For rare Senate votes that occurred on Saturdays, Lieberman walked to the U.S. Capitol to cast a vote. He won the adoration and pride of the U.S. Jewish community in 2000 as the running mate to Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore, an election lost by several hundred votes in Florida. Many Jews backed his unsuccessful Democratic presidential primary campaign in 2004.

As the Democratic Party ticked leftward in the post-9/11 era, Lieberman began to find himself alienated from the party that fueled his political career. He served three terms in the Senate as a Democrat after first being elected in 1988. In 2006, he faced a Democratic primary opponent who challenged Lieberman — a foreign policy hawk — over his support for the Iraq war. Lieberman lost the primary but stayed in the race as an Independent, ultimately beating the Democrat to win his fourth and final term in office. Two years later, Lieberman endorsed his Republican colleague John McCain for president in 2008.

In recent years, Lieberman faced criticism from Democrats after becoming a prominent spokesperson for No Labels, the political organization that is seeking to field a third-party candidate in the 2024 presidential election. Last week, he wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal arguing that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) “crossed a political red line” when he called for Israelis to replace Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Lieberman grew up in Stamford, Conn., the son of a liquor store owner. He attended Yale College and Yale Law School, and worked as a lawyer in Connecticut before running for office. Lieberman was first elected in 1970 to the Connecticut state Senate. He won with help from a Yale Law volunteer named Bill Clinton. He served in the state Senate for 10 years before losing a congressional bid in 1980.

Throughout his career, his campaigns often relied on strong bipartisan support. When he ran for attorney general in 1982, he was endorsed by National Review editor William F. Buckley Jr., whom he met while a student at Yale. Both men had been editor of the Yale Daily News

In the Senate, Lieberman developed strong foreign policy bona fides. Early in his career in Washington, he sided with President George H.W. Bush in voting to authorize the first Persian Gulf War. He helped establish the 9/11 Commission soon after the terrorist attacks and played a pivotal role in the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. 

Lieberman spoke out clearly and eloquently on moral issues, saying: “We in government should look to religion as a partner, as I think the founders of our country did.” He famously denounced in 2000 the marketing of violent movies, music and video games to children. His national profile grew when he condemned former President Bill Clinton’s personal behavior as “wrong and unacceptable” and said he deserved “some measure of public rebuke and accountability.” But he voted against Clinton’s impeachment.

Throughout his career, Lieberman often drew upon his Jewish faith in his public remarks. He published a 2011 book, The Gift of Rest, making the case for the importance of the Sabbath. 

“My Jewish faith is central to my life. I was raised in a religiously observant family. Given to me by my parents and formed by my rabbis, my faith has provided me with a foundation, an order, and a sense of purpose in my life,” Lieberman said in a 2011 speech at Brigham Young University. “It has much to do with the way I strive to navigate in a constructive way through every day, both personally and ­professionally, in ways that are large and small.”

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