Al Gore, governors, officials laud Joe Lieberman at funeral

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Addressing a crowd of more than 800 on Friday, former Vice President Al Gore and Connecticut’s top political leaders lauded former Sen. Joseph Lieberman as a model of bipartisanship and personal goodwill that could transcend politics and policy disputes.

While a few speakers gently alluded to the career-spanning rifts that sent Lieberman from the Democratic party’s left wing to its right and then out altogether, the heart of Connecticut Democratic leadership past and present took turns describing him as “a mensch” who put his integrity above other concerns.

“Joe and I had served alongside each other in the United States Senate for 22 years. In all those years together, never was there a cross word between us,” retired U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd told mourners at the Congregation Agudath Sholom in Stamford.

Describing Lieberman as “ferociously independent,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal said “Over the years that I watched Joe disagree with colleagues and disagree with me, he was never, ever disagreeable. He had a gift for differing but never dividing. When he and I differed, we ended our conversations with a smile. He truly believed in civility.”

Lieberman died Wednesday at 82, his death sending ripples through the Democratic Party in Connecticut, where he’d become a star through six years as attorney general, three terms as a senator, and an unsuccessful run for vice president on Gore’s ticket in 2000.

But his gradual rightward shift made him so unpopular with many Democrats, especially progressives, that the party rejected his bid for a fourth term in the Senate in 2006. Nevertheless, he won in the general election as a third-party candidate. The rift turned into a complete divide in 2008, when Lieberman endorsed John McCain for president, spoke at the Republican National Convention and largely become persona non grata with many Democrats nationwide.

All of that was put aside Friday morning, when Gore, Blumenthal, Sen. Chris Murphy, Gov. Ned Lamont, U.S. Reps. John Larson and Rosa DeLauro along with Dodd and former Gov. Dannel Malloy — all Democrats — gathered to laud Lieberman.

“Few people in our world ended up making a bigger mark than Joe Lieberman,” Murphy said. “He was a giant to me growing up and entering Connecticut politics.”

U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy reflects on former U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman during his funeral at the Congregation Agudath Sholom in Stamford on Friday March 29, 2024. (Aaron Flaum/Hartford Courant)
U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy reflects on former U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman during his funeral at the Congregation Agudath Sholom in Stamford on Friday March 29, 2024. (Aaron Flaum/Hartford Courant)

Murphy reminded the crowd that Lieberman had staked out many progressive stances long before they were popular.

“The climate change bill we passed in 2022 has many fathers, but one is Joe Lieberman, who led climate before many others were willing. Federal law now protects same-sex marriage; that would not be possible if Joe Lieberman did not push for gay rights when few others were willing,” Murphy said.

“There has not been a 9/11-style attack on this country since that awful day. That’s because Joe Lieberman had the courage to lead in reordering America’s homeland defense when few others were willing. All of that and more is his legacy, the legacy you’ll read about in the history book,” Murphy said.

But another part of that legacy was that Lieberman did what he truly thought was best for the country, refusing to consistently take one political side or the other, Murphy said.

PHOTOS: Funeral for U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman

“Joe Lieberman was one of the few leaders who was strong enough to reject that easy categorization,” Murphy said. “It often outraged people, ‘how dare you not pick a permanent side, how dare you not stay in one box?’ What I’ve learned from Joe Lieberman is to take every idea on its merits, not discount an idea because it comes from a political adversary or unthinkingly adopt an idea because it comes from a political friend.”

Speakers uniformly acknowledged Lieberman’s faithfulness to the Jewish faith, recounting how he routinely skipped fundraisers and gatherings to observe Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest. In 2011, he wrote “The Gift of Rest: Rediscovering the Beauty of the Sabbath.”

Gov. Ned Lamont also observed that Lieberman was known for devotion to his family. Field staff from the 2000 Gore-Lieberman campaign still tell anecdotes about that, Lamont said.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal stands with his wife Cynthia Malkin as they talk to the media in front of the Congregation Agudath Sholom in Stamford on Friday March 29, 2024 before the funeral of former U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman. (Aaron Flaum/Hartford Courant)
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal stands with his wife Cynthia Malkin as they talk to the media in front of the Congregation Agudath Sholom in Stamford on Friday March 29, 2024 before the funeral of former U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman. (Aaron Flaum/Hartford Courant)

“I talked with some of the campaign staff on his bus. On the way back from those long campaign trips, his caravan would stop at the flower shop so he could bring some fresh flowers to (his wife) Hadassah,” Lamont said. “Joe hoped some of the young fathers on the campaign team were there to take notes.”

Gore praised Lieberman’s accomplishments and public service, saying “Of Joe we can say his was a life of constant consequence for his family, his friends, his nation … We were close on climate, civil rights, human rights, women’s rights, LGTBQ rights and so many other issues.”

He recalled becoming friends when Lieberman was Connecticut’s attorney general, and growing far closer as they campaigned together for the White House decades later. That race ended with an ultra-thin vote margin hinging on a controversial vote count in Florida, a controversial Supreme Court decision and — 36 days later — a concession by the Gore-Lieberman ticket.

“We laughed together, fought like hell together for what we wanted our country to be, we prayed together, we thought for a season we had won together,” Gore said, drawing laughter from the crowd. “Well, you know that part of the story. You win some, you lose some and then there’s that third category.”

Gore acknowledged that he and Lieberman went their separate ways after the election and were strained by Lieberman’s increasingly right-wing stances.

Hadassah Lieberman, center walks with her step-daughter Rebecca Lieberman, left and her daughter Hani Lowenstein after the funeral service for her husband, U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman at the Congregation Agudath Sholom in Stamford on Friday March 29, 2024. (Aaron Flaum/Hartford Courant)
Hadassah Lieberman, center walks with her step-daughter Rebecca Lieberman, left and her daughter Hani Lowenstein after the funeral service for her husband, U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman at the Congregation Agudath Sholom in Stamford on Friday March 29, 2024. (Aaron Flaum/Hartford Courant)

“Joe and I had some deep and sometimes bitter disagreements over policy. No matter how hard I tried or how hard Joe tried, we could not convince the other of the merit of our positions. I was frustrated at Joe’s stubbornness and disappointed he was taking a path I thought was wrong, and I know Joe’s disappointment at my turning away from him was just as profound,” Gore said.

“So there the story could have ended and if it had, we would have reached a dead-end in a once loving and fruitful friendship, a dead end of ideological cul de sacs and ruined possibilities,” he said. “Both of us knew deep down the strong foundation of our friendship and what we shared in common was so much larger and stronger than what was driving us apart in those years.”

Matthew Lieberman, Lieberman’s son, acknowledged in his remarks that the former senator has long been held in contempt by progressives and others for his decisions.

“I’d say to those who hold hate for him, ‘he never hated you or even had ill will toward you.’ He knew it was all a part of public life today and didn’t take it personally,” Lieberman said. “He’d urge you, I’m confident, to stay strong for what you believe but to try to save yourself all the energy you’re putting into that hate because it’s a waste for you.

“We’re not the Hatfields and McCoys here, we’re Americans, we’re fellow citizens of the greatest country in the history of the world,” Lieberman said. “We’re all humans and we’re all we’ve got.”

Former U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman dies suddenly at 82 after a fall in New York City; former VP nominee

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