They got humble on Nov. 8 -- and stayed that way for four whole days, until President Bush announced that he was resubmitting the nomination of John "Mustache of Death" Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations.
For the normally bellicose Republican leadership, four days was actually a good long spell of humility. So long, in fact, that even some hardened veterans of the White House press corps briefly succumbed to the fantasy of bipartisanship, churning out stories of a chastened White House eager to reach across the aisle and across the ocean, cuddling up to the multitude of lawmakers, citizens and foreign states it had so assiduously alienated in that long, dark era stretching from 2000 to Nov. 7, 2006 BT (Before Thumping).
But all good things come to an end.
Bolton was just a warmup. Bush quickly indicated that he also planned to renominate his most controversial and extremist judicial nominees, and he pointedly let it be known that he didn't actually give a hoot what the bipartisan Baker-Hamilton commission recommended about Iraq, unless it happened to come up with a plan he already liked.
Over in the Senate, unrepentant Republicans handed a coveted party leadership position to everyone's favorite segregationist admirer, Mississippi's Trent "They Don't Call Me Minority Whip for Nothing" Lott.
In yet another sign of renewed political vigor, the administration decided to give hungry poor people a slap too. As of Thursday, the Agriculture Department has decreed that the 11 million impoverished Americans who can't always put food on the table don't suffer from "hunger" after all - they just experience "very low food security."
We should have known better than to take post-election Republican humility at face value. For the GOP leadership, calling for bipartisanship after the election was the political equivalent of the narcissist who, oozing sincerity, says, "But enough about me, tell me what you think of me."
Translated out of Republicanese, "bipartisanship" means "but enough of me forcing my policies down your throats! Now it's time for you to embrace my policies!"
Yeah, right. The Republican leadership should thank its lucky stars that the new Democratic congressional leaders have no appetite for impeachment, unlike many of their constituents.
In October, a Newsweek poll asked Americans to comment on how a new Democratic Congress should rank its priorities: 28 percent said impeaching Bush should be a "top" priority; 23 percent said it should be a lower priority; 44 percent said the new Congress should not impeach Bush. Unless my math is wrong, that means that on the eve of the election, 51 percent of Americans wanted the president to be impeached. Sounds like a mandate!
Fortunately for Bush, his brief spurt of post-election humility lasted just long enough to salve the public thirst for impeachment. In a follow-up poll taken on Nov. 9-10, a handful of impeachment enthusiasts decided that electoral rebuke was punishment enough, and the percentage of Americans who thought Bush's impeachment should be a priority for the new Congress dropped to a mere 48 percent.
Anyway, Congress has better things to do. Nancy Pelosi's "first hundred hours" is a decent start: adopt tougher ethics rules; raise the minimum wage; enact the 9/11 commission recommendations; cut student loan interest rates in half; broaden federally supported stem-cell research; negotiate for lower Medicare drug prices.
After that, move on to roll back the Bush tax cuts for the rich; demand accountability for waste, fraud and administration deceit in Iraq; get serious about global warming; protect core reproductive rights and the civil rights of gays and lesbians; call for a more collaborative approach to international institutions; close legislative loopholes on torture; repeal legislation that undermines our constitutional system of checks and balances.
Here's the really nice thing about those initiatives. Polls show that every one of them is supported by a majority of Americans, across the political spectrum. They're not "partisan" initiatives, and, strictly speaking, they're not "bipartisan" either. They're something even better: just plain nonpartisan.
Get to it, Madam Speaker.
- Rosa Brooks is a professor at the Georgetown University Law Center. She is on a leave of absence in 2006-2007 to work on a book.