Independent and Democratically-aligned U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman has been beyond the pale for Democrats for a long time. He recently ratcheted things up while supporting Republican John McCain over Democrat Barack Obama for President, attacking Obama with scurrilous, false and personal attacks during the campaign. As an added bonus for Democrats, Lieberman also campaigned for GOP Senators over their Democratic rivals. I agree with commentators who say that Joe Lieberman ‘owes’ Obama for his willingness to bury the hatchet and preserve Lieberman’s key Democratic committee chair position in the U.S. Senate – and that there’s no reason to assume Joe Lieberman will act with decency and reciprocity.
But there’s a wrinkle to the story – it doesn’t matter if Joe Lieberman thinks he owes Obama and acts like it, because Barack Obama is in a position to take Joe Lieberman out. In 2006 Barack Obama supported Joe Lieberman against the Democratic candidate most popular with the party, Ned Lamont, but Obama doesn’t have to do that again. More immediately, if Joe Lieberman doesn’t behave, I suspect Barack Obama doesn’t need to wait until 2012 to make his displeasure known. If Lieberman blows this chance at redemption, no Democrat will stand up for him and the press won’t be sympathetic – so Barack can gracefully take him out.
Showing clemency to Joe Lieberman may not be popular, but I wouldn’t underestimate it, it’s textbook politics.