Tough Talk, But Little Punch

Last November, Nancy Pelosi proclaimed, "The American people spoke with their votes and they spoke for change and they spoke in support of a new direction for all Americans . . . nowhere was the call for a new direction more clear from the American people than in the war in Iraq."

Pelosi, who would become speaker of the House as the Democrats regained the majority in both the House and the Senate, continued, "We know that 'stay the course' is not working. It has not made our country safer, it has not honored our commitment to our troops, and it has not brought stability to the region. We must not continue on this catastrophic path . . . The American people with their votes yesterday placed their trust in the Democrats. We will honor that trust. We will not disappoint . . . Democrats are ready to lead. We're prepared to govern."

Despite the proclamations, it felt like Pelosi was a speaker treading water. Her oratory was just as dramatic in a visit to the Globe on Monday. She painted a broad brush of responsibility for Iraq. "It was George Bush's war," she told the Globe. "It is now the Republicans in Congress's war. . . . This is a historic blunder of such magnitude that it boggles the mind."

But there was more than one person last November making firm declarations. Vice President Dick Cheney said just before the midterms that regardless of the elections, "the president's made clear what his objective is. It's victory in Iraq. And it's full speed ahead on that basis . . . the press may not like it. It may be controversial. . . . It may not be popular with the public. It doesn't matter in the sense that we have to continue the mission."

The Democrats have not yet forced Bush and Cheney to make any major changes in Iraq. All that Bush has proposed is to reduce troops from his "surge" levels, merely back to the quagmire levels they were before.

Pelosi talked without perhaps realizing she was in her own quagmire, straining to repeat and amplify what she said last November. She called Iraq a "war without end" and a "catastrophic blunder . . . I feel poverty stricken for the words to describe what a mistake this was for our country, for our national security, for our reputation, for our young people first and foremost."

The reality is that the Democrats remain poverty stricken to find the words that truly get Americans behind them to force Bush to get out of Iraq. While 70 percent of Americans disapprove of Bush's handling of the war in a recent CBS news poll, and 59 percent of Americans regard Iraq as a "failure" in a recent Associated Press-Ipsos poll, 57 percent of Americans in the CBS poll also disapprove of the way the Democrats are handling it.

The Democrats have not yet impressed the country. Last month, a CNN poll found that 55 percent of Americans thought the Democrat-led Congress has been a "failure." While only 33 percent approve of Bush's leadership in another recent AP-Ipsos poll, just 26 percent of Americans in the same poll approve of the way Congress is handling its job. That is down from 40 percent in April.

Pelosi, of course, solely blamed the Republicans for this. For example, she was asked why she reserves her harshest language on Iraq for Bush and the Republicans and spares top Democrats who voted to give Bush the authority to invade Iraq, such as leading presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. All Pelosi would say was, "I'm unhappy with everybody, Democrat or Republican, who voted for this war in light of what the intelligence said. But understand, this has been and is the president's war and I think the Republicans in Congress have now removed all doubt that they are now complicit."

Though the Democrats scored some domestic victories, such as the first rise in the minimum wage in a decade, polls show that Americans still see the party as complicit in the mediocre running of the country.

Pelosi promises that the Democrats are "taking off the gloves" on Iraq. It is clear that Americans would like to see more clearly what is behind the punch.

Derrick Z. Jackson's e-mail address is

(c) 2007 The Boston Globe