Remarks by Former Vice President Al Gore at the Funeral of Senator Joe Lieberman

Hadassah, Hani, Matt, Rebecca, Ethan; Joe’s sisters, Rietta and Ellen; to all of the grandchildren and to all of those who are grieving Joe’s loss; to the distinguished elected officials — I think virtually every elected official in Connecticut is here and many former members of the House and Senate; my friend, Bill Bradley is here; so many others, all to honor Joe because we’re bound together today and sadness but also in joy, because we have witnessed a life as rich as Joe’s. Rich in faith, kindness, as mentioned, decency, principle, and so many great achievements for his nation and for this state.

I’m not on the program, because I didn’t know until midnight that I was going to speak today. Thank you, Matt. And in fairness, the family didn’t know I was going to – to use Matt’s phrase – schlep up here from Tennessee, until I got on the Delta flight in Nashville last night. You have short nights here in Stamford.

Of Joe, we can say of him the very best we can say of any man: his was a life of constant consequence for his family, his friends, his nation.

But I am standing here to tell a different story of praise. Joe was my dear friend. I knew him before he came to the Senate, when he was Attorney General here in this state. I had always admired him in the Senate. We stood together on so many issues, sometimes in a small minority. He and I were among the only Democratic senators to support George H.W. Bush’s decision to go into Iraq, to force Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. And I felt personally, some of what Joe came to feel later in his career.

We were close on climate, on civil rights, human rights, women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, and so many other issues. And so that closeness was formed before I chose him to be my running mate in 2000, but then our relationship, and that between our families became extraordinarily close. A very significant relationship.

We laughed together, fought like hell together for what we wanted our country to be. Prayed together. Thought for a season we had won together, but – well, you know that part of the story. You win some, you lose some, and then there’s that little-known third category. But all of that drew us very, very close together.

On Saturdays, during the long, excruciating 36-day process after Election Day and before the Supreme Court decision, Joe would walk over to the Vice President’s residence at the Naval Observatory. To observe the stars, but to observe the Sabbath together. And it was a time of real comfort and perspective. On one occasion, I walked all the way back to his home with him. And then back to the observatory. We debated, by the way, the merits of Sabbatarianism, which has had its adherents in my faith tradition in times past and should perhaps be restored.

But Joe and I went our separate ways after 2000. I wish I could say this with as much humor as Ned did when you relieved him of that burden of being a Democrat in name.

Joe and I had some deep and sometimes bitter disagreements on policy and political matters. No matter how hard I tried, or how hard Joe tried, we could not convince the other of the merit of our positions. And those of you who have had arguments with Joe know exactly what I’m talking about. I, for one, was tempted to anger at times, frustrated at Joe’s stubbornness, and disappointed that he was taking a path that I thought was wrong. And I know his disappointment in my turning away from him was surely just as profound.

So there, the story could have ended. And if it had, we would have reached a dead end in a once loving and fruitful friendship. But that would have been an unfortunate example of something else, as well. Something bigger than me or Joe. It would have been a dead end of a kind that is so familiar in the politics of America today. A dead end with ideological cul-de-sacs and ruined possibilities of anger and retreat.

But it did not end there. We had another turn. Both of us knew, deep down, that the strong foundation of our friendship and what we shared in common was so much larger and so much stronger than what was driving us apart in those years.

Sooner or later, those of us who are fortunate enough to survive, begin to lose precious friendships faster than we can form them. It’s why we have to work to recognize their value in the moment. Always preserve them, and if they are temporarily lost, work to reclaim them. Joe had that wisdom. Politics can be a rough trade. As a recovering politician, I can certainly testify to that. The stakes are high. The pressures are great. Joe and I experienced those, but he always knew, beyond doubt, the true value of things.

I saw him ready to reclaim friendships that had been seared by disagreements. Ready to look for ways to bridge divisions. Ready to seek reconciliation. Ready to stand for his principles. Always. Even when that independence left him exposed to partisan anger from both sides.

We are, all of us here, are now living through a time when that kind of willingness to disagree without disrespect, to debate without seeking to destroy, has become, for many, harder to find. Some say that, as a nation, we have not experienced anything like our current civic rancor since the years leading up to the Civil War. Lincoln famously said “the occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we will save our country.”

Thralldom, I’m told, is an ancient Scandinavian word describing a form of voluntary slavery. Too many in these times have voluntarily become adherents to beliefs that divide us. The famous rabbit holes on the internet have slippery sides that lead people down to the echo chamber. And spending long enough in the echo chamber induces a new form of AI – artificial insanity. I mean it not merely as a humorous line, I mean to reference QAnon, election denial, climate denial, even the resurgence of the Flat Earth Society, if you can believe that. And this is a form of rancor that has the potential for dividing our country, but we have also a strong foundation and common beliefs and values that are stronger than what is dividing us.

Democracy is a learning process. And I believe there is wisdom in the American people. Enough that we will pass through our present difficulties, aided by an underlying faith in the enduring value of the unity that we can find in friendship and loyalty to one another. Those of us who had the privilege of knowing Joe Lieberman share that knowledge through the example he set as a man and as a public servant.

I learned a few words of Yiddish from him, but Ned Lamont beat me to the word mensch. There is no English equivalent for that word, Ned, which is why the English language has claimed it as one of its own. But those who seek its definition will not find it in dictionaries. So much as they find it in the way Joe Lieberman lived his life. Friendship over anger. Reconciliation as a form of grace. We can learn from Joe Lieberman’s life some critical lessons about how we might heal the rancor in our nation today.

As in so many other times of trouble, we can look back to our founders. Adams and Jefferson were partners in the extraordinary enterprise of launching the United States of America. In fact, they served together on the small committee that wrote the Declaration of Independence, along with a Representative from Connecticut, Roger Sherman. Then, of course, Adams became our second president and Jefferson our third, but the election of 1800, in which they campaigned against one another and in which Jefferson prevailed, led to a long feeling of bitterness and even betrayal between the two former friends.

But time is a powerful medicine. And after many years had lapsed, Adams wrote to Jefferson to say, “You and I ought not to die before we have explained ourselves to each other.” What followed was the most extraordinary correspondence in American history. As these two men unburdened themselves of the rancor they had felt toward one another, and returned to their love of country and of family, and to honor the friendship they had formed.

In March of 1826, as they each were nearing the end, Jefferson wrote to Adams to ask if he might grant a request and allow Jefferson’s grandson to visit Adams. As he put it about his grandson, “…he wishes to be able, in the winter nights of old age, to recount to those around him what he has heard and learned of the heroic age preceding his birth.” Famously, they both died on the same day, July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the document, they had in a sense, co-written. Jefferson wrote most of it, Adams made particularly important contributions, and Roger Sherman did as well, Connecticut’s Representative, who died earlier in 1793.

Sherman was eulogized in this state by one of Connecticut’s leading ministers, one of the most famous in American history, Jonathan Edwards, Jr. I want to close with his words from that eulogy, which have lost none of their meaning as we remember Joe Lieberman:

“To have sustained so many and so important public offices, and to have uniformly sustained them with honor and reputation; to have maintained an amiable character in every private relation; to have been an ornament to [his faith] and to have died in a good old age, in the full possession of all his honors, and of his powers both of body and mind, it is a very rare attainment and a very happy juncture of circumstances. … The loss is great to our whole country, the United States, for he was still capable of eminent usefulness. It is great to this State; it is great to this city, of which he was the first magistrate; it is still greater to this society, of which he was so amiable, eminent, and useful a member; but it is greatest of all to his family.”