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Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut told the Politico on Thursday that he has no immediate plans to switch parties but suggested that Democratic opposition to funding the war in Iraq might change his mind.

Gosh, that sounds like it might be news. I mean, he’s been flirting with changing parties but this is practically an ultimatum, right? Let’s look for the quote in the article where Lieberman says “I will change my affiliation should the Democrats cut off funding the for the war.” Go ahead, look. I’ll wait here.

Careful readers will observe that the only indication that Lieberman is any closer to changing parties, or that it would be a vote on war funding that would do it, comes in a paraphrase. It’s not quite a line in the sand — more like a limp rag in the breeze.

Those interested in what Lieberman might actually do should take a look at the article Politico cites by our colleague Massimo Calabresi: “And Time magazine is set to report Friday that there is a ‘remote’ chance Lieberman would join the GOP.” The quote they’re cannibalizing there is a real, on the record quote from Lieberman: leaving the Dems, he says, is “very remote possibility.”

That’s more straightforward than he’s been elsewhere (still pretty damn coy), but Massimo’s piece is most interesting in pointing out that Lieberman has the most to gain — in the form of Dem leadership obsequiousness — from simply threatening to flip, not actually flipping:

When Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Bush’s State of the Union proposal for a bipartisan terrorism panel was redundant, Lieberman, who supported the idea, privately sent Reid a letter saying he was “upset.” Within days, Reid backed down and negotiated the panel’s makeup with the White House. And last month, after Lieberman told Reid he had stopped attending the weekly Democratic lunch because he didn’t feel comfortable discussing Iraq there, Reid offered to hold those discussions at another time. Lieberman has started attending again.

If Lieberman has come to expect that kind of caving, he might even use his “maybe-maybe-not” leverage to try to sway his fellow Senators from voting to defund the war, if he could get some publication to play it up in the right way. As the Politico piece shows, Lieberman gets much more press for continually threatening, Red-Rover-like, to race across party lines only to stay planted in the same trite middle ground. Maybe it will only be once reporters — hell, the Dem leadership — stop paying attention to the tantrums that he’ll finally be forced to turn coat, if only to see his name in the headlines again.

UPDATE: Greg Sargent with a handy primer on all the times Lieberman has pledged to stay a Dem.