U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, arguably the best-known independent elected official in America, said the message of last Tuesday’s election is that “the American people are fed up with the status quo. They want the government in Washington to live within our means. We now have divided government, and so we have to work together.”
Lieberman was the Democratic vice-presidential candidate in 2000, but faced fierce opposition within his own party when he sought reelection to the Senate in 2006. In one of the most dramatic political maneuvers of that year, he gained ballot status as an independent and easily defeated his opponents in the two major parties.
Visiting Oklahoma City for a gala fundraiser on behalf of the Chabad Community Center for Jewish Life and Learning, Lieberman was reflective on both his own experiences and the state of national politics. He told CapitolBeatOK: “The message to Barack Obama is that he must deal with the economy. The message for both parties is the imperative to move to the center, where most of the American people are.”
Lieberman continued, “On Wednesday, the president was certainly right when he said that he took a shellacking. … I actually think it’s important that he not try to sugar coat or try to spin it away, and I hope he got the message.
“I’m an independent now. It’s significant what happened with independent voters in this election. In 2008, they were a ‘plus-18’ for Obama; that is, he had an 18 percent advantage with Independents. On Tuesday, the advantage was 16 points for the Republicans. In other words, the shift among independents was 34% in favor of the Republicans. That is a remarkable statistic.”
Concerning President Obama’s political future, Liberman said, “People will give him a chance to focus on the economy and move to the center. If he does, he might be all right for 2012.” Asked about his status within the U.S. Senate, Lieberman said, “I will remain an Independent, but will caucus with Democrats in the Senate.”
Known as an advocate of a strong national defense and homeland security, Lieberman was asked to give a “letter grade” to the Obama administration in terms of the recent U.S. relationship with Israel. He replied:
“I have to say his grade is an ‘I’ – an incomplete. Obviously he has made some mistakes, including his insistence on focusing on the settlements issue, which was something that was not a real priority for the Palestinian leadership. This distracted from some of the other issues. Now he’s working hard to improve the special relationship that America has with Israel.”
Sen. Lieberman, whose sister lives in Oklahoma, has frequently visited the state and is familiar with both its political conservatism and the ardent pro-Israel views of most Oklahomans.
Lieberman concluded his narrative on the U.S.-Israel relationship this way: “In Congress there is strong support for Israel. To back Israel is a natural because support for Israel is so phenomenal among the American people. American Christian support for Israel is phenomenal.”
Lieberman’s speech Wednesday evening included several articulations of American exceptionalism and the role of religion in private and public life. He reflected on his own career, and on a sense of purpose for America.
Lieberman told the packed house of more than 300 people, “We’re not here by accident. Each one of us has a spark of Divinity within us.” He said that the work in Oklahoma of Chabad, a branch of Orthodox Judaism, assures, “This community is brighter and more tightly woven that it would otherwise be.”
He called for civility even in the midst of robust debate: “We should disagree with the civility we would show, we should show, to other creations of God. We’re all damn lucky to be Americans.”