2016-07-27
Excerpts from the interview of Sen. Joseph Lieberman, the Democratic vice presidential nominee, by Steven Waldman, editor in chief of Beliefnet.

Beliefnet: How did your faith help sustain you during the campaign and recount period?

Lieberman: Generally speaking, my faith orders and gives perspective and hopefully purpose to every day. You have a faith in a benevolent God. If things work out, great, but if they don’t work out, they weren’t meant to be.

Beliefnet: You say if it wasn’t meant to be, it wasn't meant to be. Do you think that in essence, it was God's will that Bush win the election?

Lieberman: That's where I cease orating. You accept the judgment. Obviously, those are questions beyond my understanding. Every day that we have is a gift, and we should make the most of it and understand that if things didn't workout the way we hoped, well, today gives us another chance.

My mother embodies all sorts of wisdom for me. The night of the election, when we thought we'd lost, I went to her hotel room in Nashville because I wanted to tell her myself before we conceded. Her line to me was, "Don’t worry, we're proud of how well you did, and remember you didn't lose a life, you lost an election." Which is another way of putting an essentially spiritual insight into effect.

Beliefnet: What was the nature of your prayers during the recount period?

Lieberman: Well, that a just result be achieved, and that I should be clearheaded in the judgments that were being made, and strong and willing to take risks or do some things that were controversial if I thought it was in pursuit of justice. But then [that] whatever happened, I accept it and move on.

I would never get so specific in my prayers as to pray for a victory.

Beliefnet: No? Why not?

Lieberman: It just didn't feel right to me. Of course, I may have felt that in praying for a "just result" I knew what a just result was.[Laughs]

Beliefnet: You had this moment when you were the most famous Jew in the world. What does that do to your own sense of Jewishness and your own identity as a Jew?

Lieberman: I must tell you that I didn't think of that while it was happening. When I first got selected and so much attention was centered on the fact that Al Gore had broken a barrier in choosing a Jewish American to run for a national ticket, I was very grateful to Al for choosing me and very proud that I was chosen. And also a certain sense of almost vindication, because I'd been raised to believe that you didn't have to assimilate or homogenize to be a good American.

One of the things that was not adequately appreciated at the end of the election because of the long recount was the wonderful fact that although my faith was the focus of the attention at the beginning of the campaign, it was hardly mentioned at the end.

I also felt that because of the visibility as a Jew, I wanted to behave well -- I wanted to conduct myself honorably so that it would reflect well on both my religion and others who are religiously observant.

Beliefnet: During the campaign, there was microscopic attention to things you said about religion [as when you were quoted as saying that Judaism condones] interfaith marriage.

Lieberman: Yeah, that was tough. Just to prove my profound human imperfection, I made mistakes. On that morning that I got drawn into that conversation with Don Imus, first about interracial and then interfaith dating, really I was in over my head. One of the religious organizations said very mercifully, when asked to comment, he's running for vice president not for chief rabbi, and I thought that was a good point.

Beliefnet: What I wondered when I heard that was whether you were viewing yourself as having two missions -- one was explaining the views of the Gore-Lieberman ticket and second to explain Judaism.

Lieberman: I didn't feel that. The fact that I was observant created a buzz. A lot of people have told me that "I'm so grateful you ran, because now when I told my boss or co-workers that I'm taking off for this holiday, they understand." Or [there was] some guy who missed the plane and had to get back to New York by sunset and ran to get another plane and the plane had already begun to leave the gate. He said he needed to get back for the Sabbath, and they said, "Oh you mean just like Senator Lieberman." And they called the plane back.

Beliefnet: What would you say was the hardest thing to forgive during the campaign and recount?

Lieberman: I have very happy memories of the campaign. Nothing about our opponents comes to mind, which makes me feel good. I mean, we were in a battle, and they did some things that were heavy or hard, but I don't think anything was done that was so far over the line that I find it hard to forgive.

Beliefnet: What about the criticism that you changed your views?

Lieberman: Our Republican opponents sort of cleverly encouraged that -- which was factually unfair.

Beliefnet: Anything you feel you learned about yourself or the country from this experience?

Lieberman: My feelings about the whole experience were extraordinarily positive. I've said to many people, I loved every minute of it, except the end. That's the truth. It felt like I was put on a magic carpet and flown around the country and seen places I'd never been before. People were wonderful all around -- very warm and very accepting.

As a Jewish American and the first to run for national office, I was extremely grateful that there wasn't visible anti-Semitism.

People who were not Jewish [were] bonding with me because they knew I was religious. That was expressed over and over again. People who have spent time on other campaigns have said that as they walked along the rope lines with me at the rallies that there were a disproportionate number of people saying, "God bless you." I thought that was a way of making connection that I appreciated deeply.

This is the most demanding public experience, professional experience, of my life, and I learned that, thank God, I was up to it. I've never worked as hard. Pun intended -- thank God for the Sabbath! Thank God for the Sabbath that I got one day off to fill my tank again, get some perspective, and get ready to go again Saturday night.

Beliefnet: What would be your advice to Bush on how to handle the criticism of his faith-based initiative?

Lieberman: I think it's OK to take a couple of months and try to put our heads together. Looking back, it makes me raise the question whether we fully understood when we adopted Charitable Choice in the welfare bill -- whether we'd worked out all the questions.

I feel strongly that we can't adopt a system here that allows religious groups to meet a lower standard of civil rights protection than nonreligious groups.

Beliefnet: And that would include on issues like discrimination on sexual orientation?

Lieberman: Yeah, I would say that.

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