Joe Lieberman's claim to fame.

Politics and policy.
Aug. 22 2003 10:30 AM

The Best of Joe Lieberman

The bravest thing he ever did.

Joe Lieberman

Slate continues its short features on the 2004 presidential candidates. Previous series covered the candidates' biographies, buzzwords, agendas, and worldviews. This series assesses the story that supposedly shows each candidate at his best. Here's the one told by supporters of Joe Lieberman—and what they leave out.

The story: "On September 3, 1998, I reached my own resolution of these conflicts when I went to the Senate Chamber and delivered what I described as 'the most difficult statement I have made in my ten years in the Senate.' I called the President's behavior 'disgraceful,' 'immoral,' 'harmful,' and 'too consequential for us to walk away from.' I took strong issue with the President's argument that his relationship with Ms. Lewinsky was 'nobody's business' but his family's and that 'even presidents have private lives.' 'Whether he or we as a people think it is fair or not,' I said, 'the reality in 1998 is that a president's private life is public.' When he misbehaves in private, he risks damaging the country he heads, compromising the trust of the people he serves and diminishing his capacity to lead. … While we may regret this loss of privacy, it will often be good for our country because the private conduct of a public official can have real and serious effects on his or her ability to carry out governmental responsibilities, and therefore sunlight--even the harsh sunlight of the contemporary media--can, as Justice Brandeis once said, be a helpful and effective disinfectant. The greater the power a person holds in government, the greater is his or her responsibility to behave correctly because the worse are the effects of personal misbehavior on the government and the people he or she serves. That is certainly the lesson the Bible teaches. …" (Lieberman, In Praise of Public Life)

Reality check: Contrary to popular impression, Lieberman wasn't the first Democratic officeholder to denounce Clinton's behavior after Clinton confessed to the affair with Lewinsky. Earlier that week, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California and Rep. Marcy Kaptur of Ohio had criticized Clinton's behavior. Lieberman got more attention in part because he had been Clinton's friend and in part because he delivered his remarks on the Senate floor.

Lieberman did issue his condemnation in the face of pressure from the White House and congressional Democrats to keep quiet. And he did open the floodgates for Democratic criticism of Clinton, invigorating the movement for impeachment. But Lanny Davis, a lawyer who helped handle Clinton's public relations during the scandal, told the Washington Post in June 2003 that Lieberman's speech helped Democrats "do a kind of pivot, to condemn [Clinton's] conduct without calling for his removal. … A lot of people around the White House thought that Joe Lieberman saved Bill Clinton's presidency by giving that speech."

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

Ben Jacobs is a Slate intern.

TODAY IN SLATE

Technology

Driving in Circles

The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.

Where Ebola Lives Between Outbreaks

Gunman Killed Inside Canadian Parliament; Soldier Shot at National Monument Dies

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

The Simpsons World App Is Here, and Nearly Perfect

Science

“I’m Not a Scientist” Is No Excuse

Politicians brag about their ignorance while making ignorant decisions.

Politics

The Right to Run

If you can vote, you should be able to run for public office—any office.

In Praise of 13th Grade: Why a Fifth Year of High School Is a Great Idea 

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 22 2014 2:05 PM Paul Farmer Says Up to Ninety Percent of Those Infected Should Survive Ebola. Is He Right?
  Business
Continuously Operating
Oct. 22 2014 2:38 PM Crack Open an Old One A highly unscientific evaluation of Germany’s oldest breweries.
  Life
Education
Oct. 22 2014 4:45 PM Welcome to 13th Grade! Several Oregon high schools are offering a fifth year of high school. Every district should consider it.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 22 2014 4:27 PM Three Ways Your Text Messages Change After You Get Married
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 22 2014 5:27 PM The Slate Walking Dead Podcast A spoiler-filled discussion of Episodes 1 and 2.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 22 2014 4:10 PM Skinny Mark Wahlberg Goes for an Oscar: The First Trailer for The Gambler
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 22 2014 5:33 PM One More Reason Not to Use PowerPoint: It’s The Gateway for a Serious Windows Vulnerability
  Health & Science
Wild Things
Oct. 22 2014 2:42 PM Orcas, Via Drone, for the First Time Ever
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.