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Posted at 6:14 PM ET, 01/19/2011

Interview with retiring Sen. Joe Lieberman

By Jennifer Rubin

Sen. Joe Lieberman announced his retirement from the Senate today in Connecticut. I spoke with him by phone just a short time ago.

There was no note of regret or even sadness at the end of one chapter in his career. He said, "Today was an exciting and happy day, in the sense I did something I wanted to do." He added that "inevitably it involved a look back." How long had he been leaning this way? He conceded that after the 2006 campaign, "I wondered if I would do it again." He explained that he thought about it "a lot over the last year." He continued, "If I was going to run, I was going to have to start raising money." And conversely, if he wasn't, he'd have to give other candidates time to consider a run. But, as he said today in Connecticut, there is a time to move on.

Is there a single achievement he is most proud of? He laughed, "On a day like this I suppose I should have thought about that!" After a pause, he told me, "Two things come to mind. First, I was committed to a process for getting things done across party lines. Being a Democrat didn't come first. What came first was doing what I thought was right."

On substance, he said he had the distinction of leading Democrats on the authorization for the Gulf War in 1991 under George H.W. Bush and again for the Iraq war in 2003 under George W. Bush. And it is on Iraq that he may have mattered most. "I felt it was exceedingly important," he said, that we succeeded in Iraq. "We came within a vote of cutting off funding in 2006. That was a moment my vote and my voice mattered a lot." He also cited among his greatest accomplishments the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" that he says "righted an historic wrong."

For years he's been advocating bipartisan foreign policy. Are we there yet? "I sure hope so," he said. "This is the Democratic Party I joined, the party of JFK." He continued, "The good news is that we have a Democratic president who is regarded as quite liberal who after a lot of inquiry, a lot of review has ended up in the mainstream of American foreign policy." He cited Obama's approach now to Iraq and Afghanistan as prime examples of this. He is concerned, however, that this has not filtered down to rank-and-file Democrats. "I hope they follow Obama," he said.

Do the attacks from the left get to him? He said, "It doesn't discourage me, but it does dismay me." He continued, "There is such an ideological orthodoxy among Democrats that if you're not there 100 percent of the time, you're not 'there.'" It was, therefore, the "most gratifying moment" of his political career when he won as an independent candidate in 2006. "The voters were unhappy with Iraq. But the way I read it, they said, 'I think you are doing what you think is right. And you are a good senator so we don't want to kick you out."

On the much discussed topic of "civility," he urged that politicians rely on "self-imposed" limits. That is not only essential for governing, he said, but greater civility "will help bridge the gap between the government and disaffected voters." He said the attacks never led him to think "it wasn't worth it." Having made the decision to retire, however, he said, "I will certainly admit to looking forward to being a senator for two years instead of running around the country collecting money."

So whom did he hear from today? In addition to senators, he had a "great conversation with President Obama and Harry Reid and an e-mail exchange with Al Gore." He also had good talks with House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Oh, and he got an e-mail from Karl Rove. Lieberman joked, "I am my own rainbow coalition." Indeed.

As for the next chapter in his career, what about the secretary of defense in this or the next administration? He said the decision today allows him to continue to do important things in the Senate. He then said quite carefully, "Maybe it is old school, but if the president of the United States calls you to offer a job, you have an obligation to give it very serious thought." He added that he doesn't expect that to happen. Of course.

Many politicians are called "one of a kind." For Lieberman, that just so happens to be true. Today surely demonstrated that.

By Jennifer Rubin  | January 19, 2011; 6:14 PM ET
Categories:  Joe Lieberman  
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He actually claims to be proud of helping to lead us over a pointless cliff into Iraq in 2003? Ridiculous. Would he consider resigning, effective immediately?

Posted by: ejs2 | January 19, 2011 8:25 PM | Report abuse

how can you utter the name of john kennedy and yourself in the same sentence, joe? goodbye and good riddance. can you leave sooner before you do more damage?

Posted by: brantdavis07 | January 19, 2011 9:34 PM | Report abuse

Lifetime retirement check, lifetime SS check, lifetime healthcare, lifetime membership to the old boys network, and a few shekels in bakshis. Regrets, so you should wish.

Posted by: whocares666 | January 19, 2011 10:10 PM | Report abuse

Good to see him go. Sadly Mr. Liberman is an example of what is wrong with our political system and why most Americans despise politicians. Until we make lobbying illegal, our politicians will be bought by any special interest willing to pay them to keep them in office. When will ordinary citizens wake up to this fact. We are not in charge, the lobbyist and their clients are. This is not just a Republcan issue which many on the left would like to believe, it is also a Democratic Party issue as Mr. Liberman has demonstrated in his years in office. Term limitations, just as with presidents and governors and public funding of elections will be the only thing that will save our democracy as the founding fathers have envisioned.

Posted by: erika180 | January 19, 2011 10:33 PM | Report abuse

How magnanimous and altruistic of the "fine gentleman from Connecticut" to announce he is retiring, as Senator from Connecticut mind you. Didn't say he was retiring from politics, note that? There is talk, perhaps the better term wild and distant speculation he would run as Sarah Palin's VP if she runs in 2012, but hey, isn't Joe the definition of Opportunist in Politics?

Another image of the "fine Gentleman", folks, go look up the criteria of Narcissitic Personality Disorder in the DSM-IV Manual and tell me how many traits apply to him. All you need is 4 or 5 of the 9 to fit the diagnostic impression.

He made the mold of it!

Posted by: Joelhassfam4 | January 19, 2011 10:36 PM | Report abuse

I thought you said so many Dems would sign on to the health care repeal that bells would be ringing. Three did. Health care repeal, DOA, now and forever. Jennifer, you have an impossible job. Get another one.

Posted by: dudh | January 19, 2011 10:42 PM | Report abuse

The hatefest's up.

Posted by: ColoradoWellington | January 20, 2011 12:33 AM | Report abuse

He served the vested interests of Connecticut's insurance industry very well. It can't be said he did the same for his country.

Posted by: chan2 | January 20, 2011 12:42 AM | Report abuse

He will be well taken care of for the rest of his life by the Insurance Industry.

Posted by: gogome | January 20, 2011 1:09 AM | Report abuse

He will be taken care of for the rest of his life by the Insurance Industry,0

Posted by: gogome | January 20, 2011 1:11 AM | Report abuse

You have to have a conscience in order to feel regret, and that dreadful little sociopath has none.

Posted by: nicekid | January 20, 2011 3:20 AM | Report abuse

a man of principle and an ethical man.he should have been president instead of the nonentity now in the white house.

Posted by: razor2 | January 20, 2011 4:01 AM | Report abuse

john kennedy led us into the vietnam war.
enough of hagiography.

Posted by: razor2 | January 20, 2011 4:05 AM | Report abuse

perhaps we had better add the following

1 kennedy shared a girlfriend with a mafia leader.the woman involved told larry king she took cash from one to the other.loads of the stuff.sam giancana?

2 kennedy won the presidency because the mafia helped him win chicago.

i would back lieberman thank you very much.
he is no kennedy.thankfully.

Posted by: razor2 | January 20, 2011 6:49 AM | Report abuse

wow, stunning hubris. bye, dude. thanks for playing (us). btw, do you really want to cite all that blood of the people of iraq dripping from your hands as the greatest achievement of your sullied career of serving yourself?

Posted by: joeblow111 | January 20, 2011 6:54 AM | Report abuse

It is a sad day when we lose one of the very few Senators who has earned the respect of many Americans throughout our country. As a citizen if Illinois I looked to him, not our Senators, to vote when necessary, his judgement, not to take orders from some erratic politician from Nevada who doesn't have a clew but happens to be the senate leader...

Posted by: Illinois4 | January 20, 2011 7:39 AM | Report abuse

Ideological orthodoxy is only on the Democratic side? The GOP voted NO 100% of the time against anything Obama suggested. During Bush Jr's time in office the GOP congress voted the way he wanted even when his ratings were in a ditch and against what their own voters wanted. Here's a few quotes about orthodoxy-- "Democrats never agree on anything, that's why they're Democrats. If they agreed with each other, they would be Republicans."
from Will Rogers. "I'm not a member of any organized political party, I'm a Democrat!" -- Will Rogers

Posted by: Ralph_Indianapolis | January 20, 2011 7:47 AM | Report abuse

He is a true patriot and a person I admire. All these critics only reinforce my views of his independence.

Posted by: GaryEMasters | January 20, 2011 8:23 AM | Report abuse

Lieberman clings to his war, no matter what. There is no light in his head for truth or reality. His warmongering, his slobbering all over the senile McCain, his devotion to Israel over his own country ... the man is despicable, not matter how may Connecticut potholes he fixed. He is a stain on the political history of that state.

The irony is that his warmongering and that of Israel itself hasn't done a goddam thing to help that country in 50 years, and never will.

Goodbye and good riddance, Lieberman. Try to keep your treasonous trap shut until you're outta there.

Posted by: Casey1 | January 20, 2011 8:24 AM | Report abuse

" do you really want to cite all that blood of the people of Iraq ..."

It was their choice. Their loss. They expected the USA to be a push over.

Sorry. But they could have had peace much earlier.

As I said, it was their choice.

Posted by: GaryEMasters | January 20, 2011 8:27 AM | Report abuse

marvellous piece of writing ms rubin.the only problem is dubious types with a racist agenda seem to flock here.ignore them i say.

Posted by: razor2 | January 20, 2011 9:14 AM | Report abuse

what sort of man is joe lieberman?

self controlled transparently good and a do as you would be done by sort of guy.the perfect politician.

we do not know how to appreciate the best when we come across them.we prefer turgid men who talk utter nonsense like "we are the ones we have been waiting for."

Posted by: razor2 | January 20, 2011 9:21 AM | Report abuse

I never liked the man. I wanted to like the first Jewish candidate for Vice President, but in truth I was appalled by his poor performance in that campaign. It seemed to me that, indeed, when it wasn't "about Joe," then he wasn't particularly interested. I hope he disappears quietly.

Posted by: bertram2 | January 20, 2011 9:33 AM | Report abuse

He was & is a good senator. He did not change, the democratic party changed & not for the better !

Posted by: mct1 | January 20, 2011 9:35 AM | Report abuse

The only people expressing regret for Lieberman are the citizens of Connecticut that voted for him. They know they made a big mistake. Any John McCain supporter is a fool.

Posted by: jkarlinsky | January 20, 2011 9:46 AM | Report abuse

Republicans love Joe because he helped Democrats lose the White House.

Don't let the door hit you on the way out, Joe.

Posted by: tony_in_Durham_NC | January 20, 2011 9:49 AM | Report abuse

Yes, Lieberman did help Republicans win the White House. He insisted that Gore and the Daley now workking in The White House allow our servicemen and women's votes to be counted in Florida. Democrats will never forgive him for that. Imagine allowing all votes to be counted! What a disgrace!

Posted by: sailhardy | January 20, 2011 10:01 AM | Report abuse

Leiberman, Baucus, and Nelson have shown we have the best Senate money can buy. I hope he can rest easily knowing he helped force every American to purchase health insurance from private companies that seem to gloat over fleecing us instead of allowing Americans to pool our resources through a public insurance program. Good bye Mr. Lieberman.

Posted by: keithens | January 20, 2011 10:12 AM | Report abuse

He was the best of Senators. He was the worst of Senators. But at least he has the sense to get out before he's voted out. Nice words aside, he knows there's no way he'd win in Connecticut again.

Posted by: js_edit | January 20, 2011 10:14 AM | Report abuse

Good riddance to the Senator from Israel. As far as I can tell that is the only constituency (other than himself) to which he was truly loyal. The Iraq war had nothing to do with US security and he knew it.

Posted by: Jamz | January 20, 2011 10:19 AM | Report abuse

Top Ten Horrible Things done to Us by Outgoing Sen. Joe Lieberman: from Professor Juan Cole’s website 1/19/11:

It is worth reviewing the most horrible things Lieberman has done to us since he has been in office.

10. Undermined Jeffersonian ideals by joining with George W. Bush to throw government money to religious organizations.

9. Revived, with Lynn Cheney, McCarthyite techniques in order to harass and intimidate university professors who dared attempt to explain the historical and political context for the rise of al-Qaeda and its attacks on the United States. He even put out a blacklist of 40 university professors and administrators, including the President of Wesleyan University.

8. In 2004, revived the war-mongering, militarizing, anti-progressive ‘Committee on the Present Danger‘ to fight the anti-war movement and keep the US in Iraq, as well as to promote war on Iran.

7. Deprived Democrats of the votes to pass a single-payer option universal health care law, acting as client of big Medicine instead of looking out for ordinary people.

6. Called Israeli’s pre-planned aussault on defenseless little Gaza in 2008-2009 “self defense” on Israel’s part.

5. Intimidated Amazon into ceasing to allow Wikileaks to be hosted on its servers, even though Wikileaks is not proven to have done anything illegal. Urged that Wikileaks founder Julian Assange be prosecuted for espionage.

4. Urged prosecution of the New York Times for publishing US State Department cables given to the NYT by Wikileaks, despite the precedent of the Pentagon Papers.

3. Joined, in 2002, the Neoconservative ‘Committee for the Liberation of Iraq’ to get up a war of aggression on that country on false pretenses. His war killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and over 4000 US troops, threw Iraq into long-term instability, and made Iran a regional superpower.

2. Repeatedly called from 2006 for aggression against Iran by the US Air Force.

1. Defected to the Republicans in 2008 and tried to make Sarah Palin Vice President of the United States, saying ‘everyone should listen to Sarah Palin’.

Posted by: tarquinis1 | January 20, 2011 10:19 AM | Report abuse

Leiberman's prorities have always been Israel, the insurance industry and the welfare of the U.S. in that order. don't let the door hit you on the way out.

Posted by: jp1943 | January 20, 2011 10:21 AM | Report abuse

As a citizen of the Nutmeg State, let me add my "good riddance" to the long list of commentators who feel the same way. The only difference I can see between Lieberman and Mitch McConnell is one has more chins.

Posted by: wiltonsjs | January 20, 2011 10:32 AM | Report abuse

A nonsensical puff piece from the establishment paper.

Posted by: kevin1231 | January 20, 2011 10:47 AM | Report abuse

A senator less connected than most, but still partial to Israel's and insurance company interests over the American people. While a good senator, he was no Jacob Javits.

Posted by: jameschirico | January 20, 2011 11:00 AM | Report abuse

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