Commentary Magazine


Joe Lieberman’s Farewell Speech

Senator Joe Lieberman, the last of the Scoop Jackson Democrats, delivered his farewell address on the Senate floor yesterday. The whole speech is worth watching, but the last three minutes, in which Lieberman talks about how he was inspired into public service by President Kennedy, are particularly moving:

Lieberman also appealed to a younger generation of political leaders, urging them to get involved in foreign affairs and national security issues:

Here, too, I appeal to my Senate colleagues, and again, especially those who will take the oath of office for the first time early in January: Do not listen to the political consultants or others who tell you that you shouldn’t spend time on foreign affairs or national security. They’re wrong. The American people need us, the Senate, to stay engaged economically, diplomatically, and militarily in an ever smaller world.

Do not underestimate the impact you could have by getting involved in matters of foreign policy and national security—whether by using your voice to stand in solidarity with those who are struggling for the American ideal of freedom in their own countries across the globe, or working to strengthen the foreign policy and national security institutions of our own country, or by rallying our citizens to embrace the role that we as a country must play on the world stage, as both our interests and our values demand.

None of the challenges we face today, in a still dangerous world, is beyond our ability to meet. Just as we ended the ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, we can stop the slaughter in Syria. Just as we nurtured the Democratic transition after communism fell in Central and Eastern Europe, we can support the forces of freedom in the Middle East today. And just as we were able to prevail in the long struggle against the Soviet Union during the Cold War, we can prevail in the global conflict with Islamist extremism and terrorism that we were forced into by the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. But all that too will require leadership in the United State Senate—It will require leaders who will stand against the siren song of isolationism, who will defend our defense and foreign assistance budgets, who will support – when necessary—the use of America’s military power against our enemies in the world and who will have the patience and determination when the public grows weary to see our battles through until they are won.

Unfortunately, Lieberman has no real heir among Senate Democrats, though he has been a mentor to freshman Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte.

At the Washington Post, Dana Milbank offers a pensive take on Lieberman’s speech, noting that the same temperament that made him a great political leader–his willingness to break with his party on issues of principle–also prematurely ended his career: 

Mostly, [Lieberman] offered fond reminiscences of a quarter-century. “When I started here in the Senate, a blackberry was a fruit and tweeting was something only birds did,” he said, then recalled some of the legislation he brokered: the 9/11 Commission, the Department of Homeland Security and repealing the ban on gays serving openly in the military.

“There is no magic or mystery” to how such things were done, he said. “It means ultimately putting the interests of country and constituents ahead of the dictates of party.”

Lieberman did that, and it ultimately ended his career.

He finished his speech and accepted hugs and handshakes from staff members and the few senators on the floor. Then he slipped out one of the chamber’s south doors and into the Democratic cloakroom — a place that had never really been his home.

Lieberman will be missed as a senator, but let’s hope this won’t be the last we hear from him on the national stage.