Archive for Monday, November 27, 2006

Winners may turn to losers

November 27, 2006

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Following the Nov. 7 election, some might be feeling especially thankful - but maybe shouldn't. And others might have more to be happy about than they realize.

Let's start with a winner who might yet turn out to be a loser.

Yes, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is in line to be the next speaker of the House, just two heartbeats away from the presidency. But let's be honest here: Does anybody think she's been doing a good job since the election?

Was she deft in handling the battle royale between two fellow Democrats for the No. 2 post in the House? Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., was the obvious choice for the majority-leader job, but Pelosi, not hiding her dislike for him, supported Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., in his quixotic campaign to displace Hoyer. Murtha, hobbled by scandals and controversy, lost in a landslide.

Fresh from that defeat, Pelosi is embroiled in another intra-Democratic fight, this time with Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif. Harman is in line to serve as chairwoman of the House Intelligence Committee, but Pelosi wants another representative for the job, Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla. Whereas Murtha has merely been accused of corruption, Hastings has been adjudicated as guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors. In 1989, while a federal judge, he was impeached by the House (Pelosi was one of those voting "aye" on impeachment) and convicted by the Senate on corruption charges. And this is Pelosi's choice for a high-profile position, overseeing intelligence-gathering for the war on terrorism?

The situation on Capitol Hill led even The New York Times to observe, "Democrats are celebrating their big victory of Nov. 7 with recriminations, finger-pointing and infighting." Which is to say, Pelosi might discover the old wisdom: Be careful what you wish for. The Californian proved effective in opposition to President Bush in the past four years, but the early returns on her leadership ability suggest that 2006 might be a happier year for her than 2007.

If Democrats find the fruits of their victory tasting bitter, the opposite might be true for Republicans: Defeat might be sweeter than they think.

Let's start with Bush. The '06 elections were an unmistakable repudiation of his Iraq policy - the post-election firing of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld cinches that conclusion - but now the empowered Democrats must drink from the same policy-poisoned chalice that Bush has been quaffing from for the past few years. It was easy for Democrats to be critical of Bush's policy, but now, as the leaders of a co-equal branch of government, they have to step up and provide some solutions, even at the risk of staining themselves with the blood of Iraq.

So perversely enough, Bush has an opportunity - an opportunity to drag the Democrats into the same Iraqi mess, down to his level.

It's worth recalling that President Clinton shone when he was fighting a hostile Congress, not when he was working with an allegedly friendly Congress. In 1993-94, the Democratic 42nd president floundered in his dealings with Democratic barons and their baronies. But after the Republicans took over Capitol Hill in 1995, Clinton proved to be an adroit counterpuncher, using Newt Gingrich & Co. as foils.

So the question a dozen years later is whether the 43rd president can get the better of Pelosi and Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. Bush has his problems, but the Democrats have their problems, too. And more of those problems - the kind that come when one's background in Nevada politics is fully unearthed - will likely be visible when Reid moves his act to majority prime time.

Can Bush do it? Will the Democrats blow it? History reminds us that today's trend is rarely the same as tomorrow's trend. In this holiday season we are reminded that America always confers its blessings, but politics isn't nearly so predictable or kindly.

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