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Joe Lieberman Has Passed Away

Joe Lieberman, who served four terms as U.S. Senator from Connecticut, was Al Gore's running mate in 2000, and was John McCain's preferred choice for running mate in 2008, died on Wednesday at the age of 82.

Lieberman's Senate career was long and largely successful. He was well-liked by his colleagues, was good at reaching across the aisle back when that was still a viable strategy, and was a key backer of several pieces of notable legislation, like the bills that created the Department of Homeland Security and that repealed "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." He also once famously broke his "no working on the sabbath" rule, walking 5 miles to the Capitol to cast the deciding vote that saved Medicaid from being cut by Republicans.

That said, even people who study political history for a living don't have all that much head space for the career details of individual members of Congress, even those who had very successful careers. So, if Lieberman is remembered in half a century, it will almost certainly be for his status as the first Jewish person to appear on a major party's presidential ticket (the first Jewish person to appear on ANY ticket was 1972 Libertarian VP nominee Tonie Nathan, who also became the first Jew to receive an electoral vote, thanks to faithless GOP elector Roger MacBride).

Mind you, there is no guarantee that Lieberman will make an impression on the history books for this reason. After all, everyone knows what the VP job is (or isn't) worth, and when you consider the many and varied glass ceilings that have been broken, well, it's a semi-lengthy list. To illustrate, here's a brief pop quiz:

  1. Who is the first VP nominee who was Black?
  2. Who is the first major-party VP nominee who was Black?
  3. Who is the first VP nominee who was a woman?
  4. Who is the first major-party VP nominee who was a woman?
  5. Who is the first VP nominee who was Native American?
  6. Who is the first major-party VP nominee who was Native American?
  7. Who is the first VP nominee who was Asian?
  8. Who is the first major-party VP nominee who was Asian?
  9. Who is the first VP nominee who was Latino/a?
  10. Who is the first major-party VP nominee who was Latino/a?

Answers below. We suspect most readers will get around half of them right, showing that some broken glass ceilings are better remembered than others.

In any case, while Lieberman was an outstanding Senator in some ways, he was also controversial, particularly during the final chapters of his career. Throughout his time in the Senate, he was hawkish, but that shifted into overdrive after the 9/11 attacks. Not only did he help create DHS, he also backed the PATRIOT Act, and he was a major supporter of the use of force in Iraq, helping to steer that measure through the Senate. Invading Iraq was a fairly mainstream Democratic position in the early 2000s, but it's not today.

Lieberman is also closely tied to two acts that many Democrats consider to be betrayals of the Party's principles. First, he refused to vote for the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) unless the public option was removed. He got what he wanted and to this day, of course, there is no government-run healthcare plan that's available to everyone. Lieberman's official reason for his intransigence was that "even with an opt-out because it still creates a whole new government entitlement program for which taxpayers will be on the line." Is that the whole story? Well, as noted, Lieberman represented Connecticut, which is where the city of Hartford is located. Hartford is known as the "Insurance Capital of the World" because it is headquarters to so many insurance companies. Those would be the same insurance companies that would have to compete with a government-run insurance plan. Might that have entered into the then-Senator's thinking? We report, you decide.

The final act of Lieberman's career is also the second big, black mark against him as far as many Democrats are concerned. Having fallen well out of step with the Party, Lieberman took a leading role in founding the No Labels organization. Obviously, that story is still being written, but if somehow the group finally comes up with a candidate, and if that candidate somehow makes the difference between Joe Biden winning and losing the election, then you can make a pretty good guess that the names "Ralph Nader" and "Joe Lieberman" are going to appear next to each other for a very long time.

If you wanted to sum it up, Lieberman was essentially the Democratic version of his longtime friend McCain: long-serving senator, popular with colleagues, war hawk, bucked his Party on healthcare, ended his life alienated from that Party. As they say, people contain multitudes. (Z)

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