Published on
the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Congress' Majority Wimps

Tony Norman

A year ago today, this newspaper published a column under the headline "Say It Loud: I'm a Democrat and I'm Proud."

That veiled homage to James Brown came a few days after the the 2006 midterm elections.

"There's nothing like a closely fought election to restore one's faith in democracy," the columnist wrote, intoxicated by the promise of the moment. "After too many years on the outside looking in, I feel as if I have my country back."

Karl Rove, the man who engineered two terms for the inattentive and feckless president, finally had egg on his face.

All week, the man the media dubbed "Bush's Brain" boasted of secret polling data that had the Republicans holding on to both chambers of Congress.

It was an outrageous lie, of course, but it would have only been slightly less plausible if Mr. Rove had included the geneology of the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus for good measure.

Stunned by the scale of his party's rejection at the polls, Mr. Bush publicly needled Karl Rove about being "too distracted" by extracurricular reading to pay attention to the details of a reality-based election. Things were looking ugly for the GOP.

Still, the administration's surrogates at Fox News and in the blogosphere tried to spin a historic rout into something far less significant than the Gingrich revolution a decade earlier.

But even nostalgic nonsense couldn't obscure the fact that the Iraq war had finally become Mr. Bush's electoral Waterloo.

Americans were tired of a pointless war that consumed so much of our national treasure and took so many lives on both sides. Five years after 9/11, we were finally looking beyond the fear that had begun to undermine our democratic institutions.

Because the Democrats promised an endgame to a war Mr. Bush started, the American people gave what had become a perennial opposition party a slim majority in the U.S. Congress.

Last November, Americans of all persuasions looked forward to Rep. Nancy Pelosi becoming speaker of the House in January 2007. Our weariness and expectation was that deep.


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And while no one was particularly excited about Harry Reid becoming Senate majority leader, there was an expectation that even with uninspired leadership at the top, dramatic changes in the conduct and duration of the war were months away.

We have a lame-duck president with a lower approval rating than Richard Nixon in 1974. Who could have imagined that he would still hold all the cards in 2007, with no end to the war in sight?

The three top Democratic presidential candidates aren't even prepared to commit to pulling American soldiers out of Iraq before 2013. Last year, after the Democrats took Congress, who would have expected the party's standard-bearers to become so craven?

If someone had said a year ago that Americans would still be tolerating two wars with an estimated price tag of $2 trillion and no good outcome guaranteed, wouldn't that have generated gasps of indignation? What self-respecting majority party would allow that to happen?

With estimates that one out of four homeless people are veterans and that as many as 1,500 of those are veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, have we approached anything that could be called a threshold of shame in our society yet?

If someone told us that a year after Democrats took over the Senate Judiciary Committee, two Democrats would cast the votes allowing a candidate for U.S. attorney general who doesn't know whether waterboarding is torture to move forward, would we have believed it?

A year after the Democrats took control of Congress, the leading Democratic presidential candidate voted to support Mr. Bush's declaration that part of the Iranian military was a terrorist operation. This is leadership? What kind of discernment is that?

When I wrote that column celebrating the Democratic takeover last year, I truly believed substituting one party for another would make a difference. Because of the cowardice -- excuse me -- "pragmatism" of the Democratic Party leadership, nothing has changed when it comes to the war.

Maybe Karl Rove and his ilk were right. Despite the humiliation the Republicans suffered a year ago, maybe there was no real change.

After the 2008 election, it may be time to give the Greens or another third party a serious look. I'm tired of these damn Democrats. To paraphrase Dylan: "I was so much younger then. I'm older than that now."

Tony Norman can be reached at

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