Roger L. Simon

My interview with Lieberman

I had the fascinating experience of doing a video interview with Senator Joe Lieberman late Wednesday afternoon. I confess to some nervousness beforehand because this was a big opportunity for our fledgling Pajamas Media. With the one-time Democratic Party vice-presidential candidate now fighting for his political life as an independent, there is little doubt that the Lieberman – Lamont race is the most interesting, certainly the most dramatic, of the 2006 election.

Some details: Producer Andrew Marcus and I met the Senator’s staff at his office in the Hart Office Building. But since election laws prevent interviews from being conducted in congressional offices, we were led down the street to the small apartment of a friend in the lower floor of a Capitol Hill townhouse. There, our crew rearranged the furniture for shooting and set up the lighting while I fidgeted and made small talk with Lieberman’s staff.

At about 5:15 the Senator walked in by himself, not surprisingly a little late. Lieberman’s a busy man these days. We made some small talk of our own – Lieberman and I had attended Yale at the same time, he in the law school and I in the drama school, both of us participating in the active campus civil rights movement of the period. We both squinted at each other, pushing back in our minds forty misty years, trying to recognize a youthful face hidden behind decades of life. But then, no time to waste, we set about the interview.

What I thought of him: I have always admired the Connecticut Senator more than most politicians, but I must also confess that I was occasionally put off a bit by the earnestness – that Holy Joe thing, the whiff of sanctimony. But I saw no evidence of that in the time we were together. In fact, the reverse: I was impressed with his genuineness and warmth. Was I wrong before or is this a new Lieberman? I’m not qualified to say.

But I offer this observation: In response to one of my questions, the Senator allowed that he felt running as an independent to be “empowering.” I could see in his eyes that he meant that in deep way. I empathized. I know from my own life how empowering shaking off the old clothes of rigid received ideas and alliances can be. At best, you can be reborn. Not a bad deal for someone whose age has a 6 in front of it.

I was also surprised at the honesty of his responses. The process of running for office makes people guarded in the extreme. His answer to one of my later questions particularly impressed me with its directness. I had been taken aback and moved by the decoration on the wall of his office reception room. Still lined up next to each other for the world to see were a number of smiling photos of Joe Lieberman cavorting with some great old friends in happier times – Connecticut’s other Senator Chris Dodd (now said to have presidential ambitions himself), Teddy Kennedy and Al Gore. Not one of them is supporting Lieberman for reelection. They are all backing his opponent. I asked Lieberman if he could ever forgive them. His answer, I promise you, will interest you.