But for the want of a few hundred votes, Joe Lieberman would have become vice president of these United States—and a pathbreaking figure not only in the history of American politics as the first Jew on a presidential ticket but in the annals of Jewry. He would have been one of the greatest credits to our people the world would ever have known. Well, who needed the vice presidency for that. As it was, and as he was, Joe Lieberman was that person.

What a guy. What. A. Guy.

As a man in his private life and his everyday relationships, he defined the word “mensch.” As a Jew, he spent his life as a devoted follower of the obligations of Orthodoxy. As a public servant in Connecticut and Washington, he was never anything less than a man who served his state and served his country faithfully, rigorously, honestly, and with true honor.

It was one of the great blessings of my life that I got to know him over the past 20 years—to break bread with him, and celebrate the marriage of his daughter with him, and celebrate the birth of grandchildren with him, and honor him (for we do actually intend it as an honor) as one of COMMENTARY’s roastees. It is a mark of his amused and amusing character that he appeared at a COMMENTARY roast to pay tribute to the opposite number who had prevailed in that 2000 contest, Dick Cheney—and that Cheney returned the favor with comparable graciousness and high good humor when we roasted Joe two years later.

Indeed, the Lieberman-Cheney debate in 2000 was one of the last genuinely civil exchanges on the highest planes of American politics. And the memory of it stings—because we have spent the last quarter century doing what we can to rid Washington of exactly the kind of civility and respect Joe Lieberman extended across ideological and partisan boundaries.

Indeed, his career proved an early example of the nightmarish direction in which American politics was heading when, in 2006, he was targeted by leftists in his own party for defeat—even though he was the sitting senator from the state of Connecticut, only six years removed from his vice presidential candidacy, and only three years removed from his own bid for the presidency in 2004.

For the sin of supporting a war to remove a monstrous tyrant, and for the even more egregious sin of embracing George W. Bush at the State of the Union in 2005, Democratic voters in Connecticut voted for a primary rival, Ned Lamont, in his stead. To give you a sense of the emotional capaciousness of the man, just a week after he had lost his primary, Joe gave his daughter Rebecca away in marriage to my very, very dear friend Jacob Wisse. Notwithstanding the difficult circumstances he found himself in, Joe glowed with joy the entire weekend, so devoted was he to Rebecca (also one of my closest friends) and so aware of the value of a marriage that has thrived and has since produced two beloved granddaughters.

“I am so thrilled today,” he said in his toast at the wedding, “that I would love to give you all an earmark.”

He told me—I had not spent any time talking to him until this moment—that he felt confident things would be all right. He had  decided to run as an “independent Democrat” in the November election. And indeed, he beat Lamont by 10 points because the entirety of the state of Connecticut understood and wished to pay tribute to Joe’s great and surpassing value. He served out that term, retired after 24 years in the Senate, and moved to New York, where he worked as a lawyer and continued to provide sage counsel on the most important matters facing America and the Jewish people.

His career as an effective legislator was based on his determination to bridge gaps and seek to find solutions to social and political problems besetting America—while at the same time demonstrating how it was possible both to be a dedicated and patriotic American, a dedicated and faithful Jew, and a dedicated and determined Zionist.

He was cheerful, jaunty, very funny, and had about him a kind of easy and relaxed cool—in odd ways he would remind me of an image of Sinatra on one of Frank’s upbeat album covers. There will be more to say about his contributions to American life and American politics—and what it means that it may be some time until we see his like again. For now, and for the COMMENTARY family, let me say the words we say at a moment like this to his wife Hadassah,  his children Becca and Matt and Hani, his stepson Ethan, and their spouses and many, many grandchildren: May you be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

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