Joe Lieberman is a relic of a time in American politics, in truth not so many years ago, when Democrats and Republicans reached across the ideological aisle to do the people’s business, rather than publicly denounce each other as being evil incarnate.
Lieberman appeared Nov. 3 at the Marcus JCC’s 27th annual book festival to promote his seventh book, “With Liberty and Justice: The Fifty Day Journey from Egypt to Sinai.” It focuses on the relationship between freedom and the law.
“Freedom is not enough. If we only had freedom it would inevitably result in chaos, Lieberman told an audience of 700-plus. “We need the law to discipline ourselves, to achieve justice.”
“With Liberty and Justice” is a set of 50 essays that Lieberman, an observant Jew, co-wrote with Rabbi Ari Kahn. Drawn from religious and secular sources, the book traces the 51 days between Passover, when the Jews got freedom from Egypt, and Shavuot, when the Jews accepted the Torah as law.
Lieberman shared the stage with his son Matthew, a Vinings resident and former head of school at Greenfield Hebrew Academy (now Atlanta Jewish Academy).
The younger Lieberman’s debut novel, “Lucius,” revolves around the relationship between Benno Johnson, a 90-year-old white Southerner, and Lucius Cincinnatus Jones, his imaginary slave, as told to a volunteer at the senior residence where Johnson lives (think Berman Commons, the author says).
The Liebermans were interviewed by veteran journalist and documentary producer David Lewis.
Joe Lieberman represented Connecticut in the U.S. Senate from 1989 to 2013. As Al Gore’s running mate in the 2000 election, he came within a whisker of becoming the first Jewish vice president. A 5-4 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court made George W. Bush president after a contested election. Speaking three days before the Nov. 6 mid-term election, the 76-year-old Lieberman mused about the state of American politics.
“I don’t miss it, but I have enough obviously lifetime identification with the institution of our government that it pains me deeply to see what’s been happening, and I just try to figure out how we can make it better,” Lieberman said.
“Usually after the campaigns were over people got together and understood that, in our system, you’ve got to negotiate and compromise or you’re not going to get anything done,” he said.
In Lieberman’s view, those at fault for the abandonment of that ideal include political parties that “have become like tribes that are constantly at war with each other,” and media that encourage politicians to take stands that enhance conflict.
“Most people in this country really want their representatives in Washington to work with the other party to get something done for our country,” Lieberman said.
The message members of Congress bring home has changed.
“Today, people tend to go back [to their constituents] and say, ‘This is what I stopped those bad guys from doing,’ or, ‘I tried to do this and these bums in the other party stopped me,’” Lieberman said. “As a result, we’re not solving problems.”
A member of the audience asked Lieberman how to balance the Jewish virtues in the immigration debate.
“We, as Jews, we want to live within the law, and we’re inevitably affected by our own history. The Torah could not be clearer. We were foreigners, we were a minority in Egypt and we can never forget that. … On immigration, we have to make sure we’re not mistreating the stranger, the foreigner unfairly. You can’t have an open immigration policy, but you can’t demonize the immigrants. We’re all the children of immigrants,” Lieberman said.