Senate Democrats have decided not to cast Joe Lieberman into the outer darkness for breaking with the party and endorsing John McCain. Lieberman is losing a minor (subcommittee) chairmanship but keeping the post with real power, chair of the Homeland Security Committee.
This is smart. Given a choice between enforcing lockstep party loyalty or strengthening their majority, the Democrats chose the latter course and will now be a stronger force in the Senate. Any chance of Lieberman bolting to the Republicans is gone. And I would expect Lieberman to patch things up quickly with his party. The Iraq war, the issue that really drove the wedge between him and his colleagues, is winding down and no longer has much power to divide people. His friend John McCain is off the presidential campaign trail and back in the Senate. And on most issues, Lieberman is a mainstream-to-liberal Democrat.
The caucus vote on Lieberman came after Barack Obama let it be known that he didn't want to see the senator punished for straying. That might not be how his chief of staff Rahm Emanuel would handle an apostate, but Barack's the boss and he believes in the Big Tent.
Now it's true that magnanimous acts come more naturally to winners than to losers. Witness the Republicans, who seem to be following the typical pattern of backbiting that follows a political disaster. Mike Huckabee already has a book out, and (to judge from reports), he takes it to Mitt Romney, Gary Bauer, the Club for Growth and everyone else who wouldn't endorse him. He also lays claim to representing "real" conservatism against the "faux-cons" who opposed him. McCain's campaign ended ugly, too. Its staffers first went after Sarah Palin, then Palin roared back with a blitzkrieg of interviews with whoever would point a camera and mike at her. Now she's said to be angling for a $7 million book deal. When the GOP gets get serious about winning again, the fratricide and arguments over right-wing purity will wind down. But Republicans may then find that Barack has already shepherded most of the Independents into his Big Tent before they've managed to pitch one of their own.
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