Joe Lieberman and Carlo Rizzi



As I watched Joe Lieberman flack for John McCain at the GOP convention, I was reminded of the fate that befell Carlo Rizzi in The Godfather.

I happen to share the view, best articulated by Tom Hanks in one of his romantic comedies, that "The Godfather is the I-Ching. The Godfather is the sum of all wisdom." In the case of Lieberman, who has betrayed his party just as Carlo Rizzi betrayed the Corleones, one gets the sense that the Senate Democrats are patiently waiting for the opportunity to strike.

After Carlo set up Sonny Corleone for that hit at the tollbooth, years passed. Sonny's brother Michael bided his time until the day when he deemed it right and proper to "settle all family business." And here in real life, the moment may soon arrive - after the election, after the Senate Democrats presumably pick up a few more seats and safeguard their majority - when, metaphorically speaking, they will place Joe in the front seat of a car supposedly headed for the airport, and fat Clemenza in the back seat will slip the rope around Joe's neck, and squeeze so hard that the Joementum will propel the turncoat's feet through the windshield.

That's what seems likely to happen - but only if the Democrats have the guts to be as ruthless as the Republicans would surely be if one of their own former vice presidential nominees had showed up at the opposition convention to endorse the nominee and diss the GOP's candidate.

For now, Democrats appear to be playing it cool. They say that Lieberman (an independent who caucuses with the Democrats) is welcome to show up at their weekly luncheons, as always, even though Lieberman himself has decided not to attend. Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid is saying that Lieberman faces no imminent punishment. Senate Democrats did not interact with Lieberman when he showed up in the chamber two days ago, but few have been venting about Lieberman in public, saying only that they are "disappointed" with his behavior. And even though Lieberman's legislative director abruptly quit his job this week and gave no reason - the timing was suspicious, coming right after Lieberman's GOP convention appearance - the departing aide claimed only that he was hoping to explore other career opportunities.

Still, there have been rumblings, confirmed in high Democratic circles, that if the party expands its Senate majority - picking up anywhere from three to seven seats in the '08 elections, a very real possibility - then they won't need Joe anymore. Right now, with him in the Senate Democratic caucus, they have 51 votes. If they organize next January with, say, 55 or 56 seats, they can safely strip him of the Homeland Security Committee chairmanship, and kick him out of the party entirely.

Lieberman surely would not be surprised; he's not living as obliviously as Carlo Rizzi, who actually believed he would become Michael Corleone's "man in Vegas." Lieberman's grievances with the party go way back, starting with the fact that he was waxed in the '04 presidential primaires (being a hawkish supporter of George W. Bush's Iraq disaster had something to do with that); and that he was embarrrassingly beaten by an anti-war candidate in his own Connecticut Senate primary two years later, forcing him to run and win the general election as an independent.

His support for McCain is not based on mere revenge, however; he obviously likes and respects McCain. But Democrats are quietly steamed about the extent of his support, the disdain he has voiced about Barack Obama, and his hypocrisy about hailing McCain as a nonpartisan figure (and framing his own endorsement as nonpartisan) while conveniently ignoring all the partisan lies concocted by the McCain campaign.

Lieberman has earned serious demerits for dissing Obama in his GOP convention speech, for condescendingly calling him a "young man," and suggesting (through rhetorical omissions) that he is not fit to be commander-in-chief. Worse yet, Lieberman's critics are incensed that this self-advertised figure of nonpartisan rectitude has remained silent while McCain  lies about Obama on a daily basis in the pursuit of partisan gain - claiming, for instance, that Obama will raise everybody's taxes, whereas, in factual reality, Obama's tax-raising plan exempts families earning less than $250,000 a year.

Meanwhile, a new McCain ad declares that Obama has supported "'comprehensive sex education' for kindergartners," whereas, in factual reality, Obama in the Illinois Senate supported giving local school boards the right to provide only "age-appropriate" information, in the hope of teaching young kids how to recognize inappropriate touching from sexual predators. Will Lieberman rise above the fray, as a nonpartisan independent supposedly would do, and condemn these kinds of partisan lies? Even McCain, while stopping well short of endorsing Democrat John Kerry in 2004, nevertheless publicly condemned the tactics of the Bush-friendly Swift Boaters.

But Lieberman at this point doesn't want to do anything that might jeopardize a McCain victory - because a McCain victory might be his only political salvation. McCain, as president, could rescue Lieberman from his Senate predicament by sticking him in the Cabinet or some other high-profile post. But if Obama wins, and the Senate Democrats wind up with enough new seats...cue that Godfather music. Assuming that the Democrats have the killer instinct for the deed. 

After all, if the GOP was in the same situation with one of their own, that wayward soul would already be wearing cement shoes on the mud floor of the Potomac.