Lieberman gave a speech at the Republican National Convention in which he belittled Obama’s accomplishments, describing him as a “a gifted and eloquent young man, who I think can do great things for our country in the years ahead.” But, he said, Obama had not yet “reached across party lines to accomplish anything significant” nor taken on “powerful interest groups in the Democratic Party to get something done.”
Lieberman, who has represented Connecticut in the Senate for 24 years, the past six as an independent, will retire when his term ends in January. As he departs, he says that he wishes that the party he left amid disagreements over the Iraq war would return to its roots as “a foreign policy/national security party.”
“Go back to President Truman, President Kennedy, President Clinton: These were internationalists who believed in keeping our military strong to protect our security, our freedom and our prosperity, and were willing to get engaged in the world to protect our values and our interests,” he said. Directly contradicting Obama’s worldview, Lieberman added: “We can’t ever be as prosperous at home and as good at home as we want to be unless we’re secure in the world. And we can’t be as positively engaged in the world unless we’re strong here at home.”
The convention speech came shortly after Obama returned to the Senate to cast a vote. The two senators exchanged words in a dark corner of the chamber, within view of reporters but out of earshot.
In an interview to mark his impending retirement, Lieberman called the conversation “private” but said, “It was serious at one point about what was going on in the campaign.”
“I congratulated him because it was clear he had clinched the nomination at that point,” Lieberman said. “And he said to me, ‘Look, thank you, but I understand that one of the reasons I have the opportunity I have now is because of what you’ve done in the past.’ I think he probably meant that I had run as the first Jewish American running for national office, so in that sense I broke a barrier, and maybe he felt that opened the doors wider for him. It was a very gracious thing for him to say.”
Lieberman said he doesn’t regret supporting McCain, the senator from Arizona, but if he could do it again, “I would have left out those few sentences” in his convention speech about Obama.
“It wasn’t what I was really about,” Lieberman said. “It wasn’t necessary to what I was doing at the convention, which was to affirmatively support my friend John McCain.”
In the end, Obama won, and Lieberman and McCain returned to the Senate, where they remain critics of the president’s foreign policy — and where Lieberman is still willing to critique the Democratic Party.
Although originally elected to the Senate as a Democrat, Lieberman served as a party contrarian from the start. As a freshman, Democrats tapped Lieberman to tape the party’s response to Ronald Reagan’s final Saturday morning radio address in January 1989. Party operatives drafted a speech and expected Lieberman to read it verbatim. But he went in a different direction.