WHEN we last left U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, the one-time Democratic vice presidential candidate was playing the turncoat, campaigning for his friend, Sen. John McCain, and making disparaging remarks about his old party and its nominee, Barack Obama.
It was a somewhat chastened Senator Lieberman who greeted reporters after Senate Democrats decided to be lenient with him, despite the lingering anger of some. In a secret ballot, they voted 42-13 to allow him to keep the chairmanship of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
This time, Mr. Lieberman, who has caucused with the Democrats since winning election as an Independent two years ago, was a nonrebel with a defeated cause. He contritely said: "There are some [comments] that I made that I wish I had not. In the heat of campaigns, that happens to all of us, but I regret that, and now it's time to move on."
As a practical matter, he got off lightly for his betrayal of the millions of Democrats who had faith enough to vote for him in 2000. But although President-elect Obama reportedly urged that Mr. Lieberman not be banished from the party's caucus, the gentle rebuke doesn't necessarily mean that Democrats are better than Republicans at reconciliation and forgiveness.
Democrats, after all, can count. The same day brought the party welcome news that veteran Republican Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska had lost re-election by the barest of margins to Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, who will become the first Democratic senator from the state in nearly three decades. Yet even if this result stands (and a recount is possible), it brings Democrats up to only 58 seats, counting two Independents who side with them.
Senate races in Minnesota and Georgia are still undecided and the Democrats may yet reach the magic number of 60 needed to thwart Republican filibusters. In any scenario, every vote is important.
As much as Mr. Lieberman's actions were a blot on his reputation, it made no sense to cast him into the outer darkness. If the Obama administration is to be all about bringing the American people together, why not start with a renegade senator who still has to prove that he is not a bum?