Even TIME had to put aside its liberal bias and face the fact that the most powerful person in all of Congress is a man by the name of Joe Lieberman.
Funny, I remember a time not too long ago when liberals seemed to have nothing but love for independents.
In his 18 years in the U.S. Senate, Joe Lieberman has cultivated an image of himself as a lonely prude among the morally corrupt, that rare Washington official who places principle above politics. But with the Democrats' hold on power dependent on just one vote — in effect, his — and with Republicans courting him to tilt the balance in their favor, Lieberman has been indulging in some fairly immodest political footsie. Early this year he terrified fellow Democrats by skipping several of the weekly caucus lunches that cement party fidelity in the Senate. Recently he was spotted in the Republican cloakroom talking with South Carolina's Lindsey Graham about reforming Social Security. He even says he might vote Republican for President in 2008, a not-so-veiled hint that he would prefer John McCain, his fellow true believer in the Iraq war, to most, perhaps all, Democratic alternatives.
The Democrats' 2000 candidate for Vice President is the only party member in the Senate supporting President Bush's Iraq policy and says he is "very troubled about the direction the party is heading on foreign policy generally." With his re-election in November, many old allies now rue abandoning him after he lost the Connecticut Democratic primary to Ned Lamont last August. Both sides concede that bitterness remains. "It's still a little painful and awkward," says the majority whip, Dick Durbin, "but I think the caucus counts him as a friend."
Lieberman says leaving the Democratic Party is a "very remote possibility." But even that slight ambiguity — and all his cross-aisle flirtation — has proved more than enough to position Lieberman as the Senate's one-man tipping point. If he were to jump ship, the ensuing shift of power to Republicans would scramble the politics of the war in Iraq, undercut the Democrats' national agenda and potentially weaken their hopes for the White House in 2008. Those stakes are high enough to give Lieberman leverage with both parties no matter how slim the chance of his crossing the aisle. Which means Senate leaders aren't worrying only about whether Joe Lieberman will switch parties. They're wondering what, if anything, he plans to do with the power that comes from keeping that possibility alive.