The paper's chairman when Lieberman joined the staff was a conservative known for writing long-winded, chastising editorials that made many on the staff bristle. During staff discussions, Lieberman, then a liberal student, would spend hours trying to bridge the gap between the right and the left. His consensus-building, which seemed to come naturally, worked to his advantage: In the fall of 1962, he ran for chairman unopposed.
Then, as now, the committed activist was slower to rise than the thoughtful intellectual. When he learned that some of his Yale companions planned to go to Mississippi to register voters, Lieberman at first was reluctant to make the 25-hour drive. Only after being persuaded by civil rights activist Allard Lowenstein and Yale Chaplain William Sloane Coffin -- two towering figures at the time -- did Lieberman sign on.
``Joe wanted to write about it in the paper, but Coffin was very eager that he go and lead and get other people to go,'' Yale grad Gary Saxonhouse said in an interview for the 1992 history thesis.
Saxonhouse, one of 63 students who went to Mississippi in 1963, recalled that Coffin ``played to Joe's idealism;'' Lieberman eventually embraced the challenge.
Whether Lieberman was driven by his head or his heart, the trip left an indelible impression. Although the worst his group suffered was a gas tank clogged with dirt and rocks, students who went later were beaten, hauled off to jail or shot at. The black people he had come to support were terrorized with impunity.
``I saw real evil," Lieberman said in the thesis interview. "I saw the ability and courage of people to use the political system in this country in a way that can't be imagined today.''
Once grounded in politics, Lieberman began the work of crafting his own political persona.
He chose his role models carefully.
In 1963, with Yale administrators encouraging students to secure summer internships in Washington, D.C., Lieberman made a smart political choice: He asked to work for newly elected U.S. Sen. Abe Ribicoff.
``The opportunity to work for Ribicoff, to listen to him to watch him and learn from him, was a truly formative experience,'' Lieberman later wrote. ``And he taught me about what he called ``the integrity of compromise'' -- that it is usually better to compromise to make progress than to remain inflexible and therefore unproductive.''
Soon after the internship, Lieberman signed up for a special Yale program that allowed him to work on a yearlong project in lieu of classes. Lieberman chose to spend his entire year studying -- and courting -- John Bailey, the Connecticut Democratic chairman who helped get Ribicoff to the Senate and was known generally as picking candidates and getting them elected.
In 1963 and 1964, Lieberman would spend several months shadowing Bailey, recording his political wisdom, and getting to know Bailey's cohorts. Lieberman produced a thesis he would later turn into a flattering full-length biography called ``The Power Broker.''
Bailey, in turn, became so enamored with young Lieberman that he asked him to work at the National Democratic Convention in 1964 and on preparations for that fall's election.
Lieberman would later describe the thesis experience as a ``priceless'' political lesson. But it would also become immeasurably valuable to his own political future. While attending Yale Law School, he also was breaking into the inner circle of Connecticut politics.
``We got a call from Bailey about this smart young kid who wanted to get into politics,'' recalled Leon Medvedow, a New Haven Democratic Party leader. ``He was a young liberal go-getter.'' He said Lieberman was not interested in running for city alderman -- the usual starting point. ``He wanted to start right at the state Senate.''
Lieberman, who made New Haven his permanent home, took a job with a local firm and spearheaded a statewide support group for Bobby Kennedy's brief presidential campaign. Then, in 1970, the anti-war liberal took on incumbent Ed Marcus, running well to the left of the then-Senate majority leader who had fallen out of favor with Bailey. It was a risk, but a calculated one: Backed by Bailey and Ribicoff -- and a $30,000 war chest that was larger than any state Senate challenger had ever raised -- the political neophyte had little to lose.
Rob Schwartz, who would become Lieberman's chief of staff, said the young politician knew the value of his early contacts with mentors.
``Human nature being what it is, people like people who listen to them, who show them respect,'' Schwartz said.
In the state Senate, Lieberman championed classic liberal proposals such as more aid to local schools.
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