Saint Matthew wrote that in the Sermon on the Mount, Christ spoke these words: "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth."
If that, in fact, turns out to be the case, then one day soon the sedated and submissive Senate Democrats will be land barons.
It is true that you could find more smiling faces in Dr. Kevorkian's van than in the Senate Democratic Caucus. The lamblike silence of their party leaders leaves rank-and-file Democrats feeling abandoned and betrayed. Democratic foot soldiers see a President Bush who is clearly vulnerable politically on his Pontius Pilate disengagement from the simmering conditions in the Middle East that led to the deadly Israeli-Palestinian crisis, on Social Security, on the environment, for an obvious tilt to the rich and powerful on taxes and government policy, and on health care -- particularly the runaway cost of prescription drugs for seniors.
Whether it is out of fear of being branded "soft" on terrorism or simple political paralysis at the sight of the president's sky-high favorable poll numbers, too many Washington Democrats are too scared to question -- let alone to criticize -- the Bush administration's very questionable policies.
Credit must go to Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., who has bluntly framed the choice for his fellow elected Democrats: "We, the most prosperous generation in the most prosperous nation in human history, must decide whether we will fund our own retirement or whether we stick our kids and grandchildren with the bill for this (Bush) tax cut."
Elected Democrats apparently stop reading the polls right after they see Bush's favorable job rating, which is indeed favorable. Because if they continued to read, they would encounter abundant evidence that voters, when asked to decide between covering prescription drugs for seniors or repealing the scheduled Bush tax cuts, choose -- by margins of 2-to-1 -- the prescription drug benefit over tax cuts.
But Democrats cannot begin to fight credibly for prescription drugs when they cannot muster the will -- in a time of war -- to suspend the future Bush tax cuts. It's sad that Capitol Hill Democrats lack the courage of the voters' convictions.
This president and the White House are seen by voters as squarely on the side of the wealthy. The White House makes no attempt to conceal its commitment -- by lightening the tax load of those in the highest income brackets -- of closing the dangerously wide gap between the rich and the super rich. To cover the costs of his tax cuts, the president has been forced to raid the Social Security trust fund just to pay the government's bills. Simultaneously, congressional Republicans, in reaction to Bush's own signature initiative -- the partial privatization of Social Security -- have run away from that controversial idea faster than a vampire from a crucifix or a National Organization of Women delegation from free drinks at Hooters.
Congressional Republicans do not want to explain in an Enron/Arthur Andersen election year -- when voters, according to Republican pollster Bill McInturff, hold more positive feelings toward both Congress and labor unions than they do toward big corporations -- how the $1 trillion needed to cover the transition costs to the Bush privatization is now long gone because of the earlier Bush tax cut.
Yes, the president does have a high favorable rating. But he has been the beneficiary of, rather than the prime mover responsible for, this historic surge of national unity. There are today included in that favorable Bush job rating a lot of Democratic voters who admired Bush's post-Sept. 11 performance but who will, in all likelihood, pull the Democratic lever in November. The Bush commander in chief credential is not transferable to GOP congressional candidates.
But until a timid Democratic leadership shows the courage to question and to criticize the shortcomings and the injustices of the Bush policies, the nation will be without the healthy public debate we need.
There must be some Democrat with the courage to say publicly that the emperor is wearing a Speedo.
Mark Shields is a commentator on PBS' The News Hour with Jim Lehrer and on CNN's Capital Gang.
Copyright 2002 by Creators Syndicate