Op-Ed: Grades for the Dems' First "Semester" in Power
An Op-Ed in the Durham-Herald today, by your man M.
For first term, Democrats get two 'Cs' and an incomplete
By Mike Munger : Guest columnist
Dec 28, 2007
The Democrats have had a full grading period back in control of Congress. Unfortunately, they didn't take a full course load, backing off on lots of legislation. In fact, the Dems are playing this as if they can just sit tight and win the presidency, and gain seats in the Senate. They are like those smug kids who try to keep their GPAs by ducking all the hard courses.
But the new majority hasn't pressed the president on a schedule for leaving Iraq, for reducing the deficit, or solving problems in the finance and housing sectors. Time for some grades on what was done.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi caused raised eyebrows with two things she did in her first days in office. Day one, she took "impeach Bush!" off the table. Then she backed sleazy insider John Murtha for Majority Leader over loyal and effective Steny Hoyer. When Hoyer won anyway, there was audible snickering at Pelosi's leadership abilities.
Harry Reid, Senate Majority Leader, announced in May that he, "and most Democrats," believed the war in Iraq was already lost. That's a lot different from, "we can't win." Don't these people have writers on their staffs? Later, in June, Reid staked his reputation on an immigration reform bill that not only didn't pass, but got held up as a sign of how out of touch Dems are with border issues.
The point is that neither leader can enforce discipline, or inspire confidence. A gentleman's C, for coming to class but never really participating.
Foreign Policy: Incomplete
The Dems didn't even show up for the final test! No real attempt to press for a timetable for withdrawal, and no effort to tighten the purse strings on the administration. Maybe they were trying to avoid the toxic charge, "you don't support the troops." Still, they signed up for the group project on "end the war" and then just stopped attending class.
Pelosi, in particular, misplaced her foreign policy syllabus. Her remarkably naive view of Israeli-Syrian negotiations was embarrassing. Pelosi's pressing on the "Armenian genocide" issue infuriated Turkey at a time when the U.S. needs Turkey for a dozen strategic reasons. Even the relatively liberal U.S. State Department had an answer for the tin-eared Pelosi straight out of Ring Lardner: "'Shut up,' he explained."
Domestic Policy: C+
The Dems have formed a circle ... and started kicking each other. In the Senate, the filibuster/veto threat has proved so potent that Reid doesn't even schedule debates. Instead, he cuts out the offending passages in advance, placating Republicans but infuriating Democrats. Rep. Charles Rangel diagnosed Senate Dems as showing signs of "Stockholm Syndrome," where prisoners develop a crush on their captors.
The Dems' only available strategy would have been to pass the bills they had promised to voters, and then use the media to advertise their plight when the president vetoes the bill. Instead, Bush's (very real) veto threat has ended class discussion completely. The Senate's timidity has robbed the Dems of a forum for showcasing noble losses. Pelosi has actually done some things here: the House has passed bills on energy policy, renewable energy, the Iraq war, the housing and subprime mortgage debacle, and middle-income tax cuts, which would have been offset by tax increases on the wealthy. But the Senate has consistently gutted these bills, or ignored them, without forcing the president to carry out the veto threat. The result is that House passage of the measures gets no attention from the media, and no attention from the Democratic base.
It's time for the Christmas break, and I have to get these grades turned in. We'll see how the Dems do in their sophomore year. But with all the presidential rush activities going on, I bet they get distracted again.
Michael Munger is chair of the Political Science Department at Duke University and a Libertarian Party candidate for governor.
© 2007 by The Durham Herald Company. All rights reserved.