Lieberman, Clinton: The hug

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Waterbury, Conn.--Liberal Democrats in Connecticut are having a great time these days accusing Sen. Joe Lieberman of hugging--even kissing--President Bush. But Bill Clinton is the man Lieberman is really embracing.

At a rally here yesterday, Lieberman took pains to point out that he was the first elected official outside of Arkansas to endorse Clinton's presidential candidacy, and Clinton pointed out that they go back a long way--and that Democrats really should support Lieberman as one of their own.

But, at least to my eyes, it wasn't the Full Clinton. Those of us who have watched Clinton for years know how to read the body language. And one thing was clear: While Clinton wants to keep the seat in Democratic hands, and wants Lieberman to win, he hasn't forgiven Joe for his Senate floor speech during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, in which Lieberman chastised Clinton's behavior, calling him "immoral." Yesterday's appearance, as one Democrat said, "was an act of charity."

The reason to bring Clinton to Connecticut is to get out moderate and working-class Democrats to vote for Lieberman against Ned Lamont in the August 8 primary. Maybe Clinton will help, and maybe he won't. So many Democrats in Connecticut are annoyed with Lieberman over his support for the Iraq war, for sure. But there are a couple of other things getting their gander lately: first, that he criticizes Democrats who dare to take on the president. And second, Lieberman says that if he loses the primary, he will run as an independent. Some consider that proof of the Joe-first mentality. If he's a Democrat, he should accept the verdict of the party. And if it's against him, move on.

What Clinton did NOT say yesterday at the rally--but made clear otherwise--is that he will NOT support Lieberman if he loses the primary. That's Hillary's position, and he's sticking to it. So Joe may end up going it alone after all.