Lieberman, Joseph

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LIEBERMAN, JOSEPH (1942– ), U.S. senator and U.S. vice presidential nominee. Born in Stamford, Connecticut, he received his bachelor's degree from Yale in 1964 and graduated from Yale Law School in 1967. In 1970 he ran for and won a seat in the Connecticut State Senate, where he served for ten years, the final six as majority leader. In 1980 he gave up his seat to run for the U.S. House of Representatives but lost.

In 1981 Lieberman ran for state attorney general. He won handily and he was reelected in 1986. In his six years as attorney general he became a formidable and national figure in regard to consumer and environmental issues. In 1988 Lieberman announced that he would run for the Senate. He won a narrow victory by some 10,000 voters. An observant Jew, he refused to campaign or work on the Sabbath or on the fall holidays in the middle of campaign season. He garnered serious support from Roman Catholic voters impressed by his religiosity.

In the Senate Lieberman soon established himself as a political moderate. For example, he supported the appointment of Clarence Thomas for a seat on the Supreme Court, angering many of his Democratic and liberal colleagues; it was only after the allegations of sexual misconduct that Lieberman changed his stance.

In 2000 Lieberman became Al Gore's running mate for the presidency of the United States; he was the first Jew to be nominated on a national ticket of a major political party. Lieberman was chosen in part because of his ethical stances and his religious views, which Gore felt inoculated him against some of the issues associated with Bill Clinton's personal behavior. His nomination produced great excitement in the American Jewish community. His campaign was not without its Jewish critics. Anti-Defamation League director Abraham Foxman criticized Lieberman for introducing religion into the public area and the political campaign. Ultra-Orthodox Jews were uncomfortable that a self-described Orthodox Jew walked around with his head uncovered and that his wife was attired in short sleeves and slacks. While Orthodoxy had moved to the religious right, Lieberman remained passionate and committed, but still moderate. The Jewish community voted overwhelmingly for the Gore/Lieberman ticket, although a poor design of the ballot in heavily Jewish Palm Beach County in Florida gave Patrick Buchanan, regarded by many as antisemitic and unfriendly to Israel, 5,000 votes that were intended for the Gore/Lieberman ticket. In the end Gore/Lieberman won the popular vote but lost by less than a thousand votes in Florida.

Lieberman returned to the Senate where he has continued to serve as a notable centrist. He introduced the bill creating the Homeland Security Department after September 11. He refused to advance his own presidential aspirations until Gore made it known that he would not run. In 2004 he ran for the Democratic presidential nomination; his moderate views did not gain great traction within the Democratic Party, which was alienated by the Iraq War that Lieberman continued to support and by President Bush's conservative agenda, which Lieberman opposed.

[Alan H. Decherney (2nd ed.)]