December 1, 2006
Nancy Pelosi has gotten off to a rocky start as incoming Speaker of the House, losing face after her choice to be House Majority Leader, John Murtha, was trounced by Steny Hoyer. I was surprised that she staked her prestige on this contest. Apparently she is not in close touch with the sentiments of the Democratic caucus. Since then she has alienated more people by rejecting Jane Harman of California as the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. As the ranking Democratic member, and one who has earned respect in this sensitive field, Harman was the natural choice. Pelosi ended up choosing Silvestre Reyes of Texas over (the ethically challenged) Alcee Hastings of Florida, who is the second ranking Democrat on that committee. See Washington Post.
In other committees, no such acrimony has been in evidence. The choice of Charlie Rangel as Ways and Means Committee chairman was obvious, so he will be the authoritative voice on whether the Democrats intend to force the issue of withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq by cutting off funding. Likewise, John Conyers of Michigan will be in charge of impeaching President Bush -- or not -- after he becomes Judiciary Committee chairman. Henry Waxman of California will head the Government Reform Committee, whose domain consists of pretty much whatever the chairman pleases. For example, Virginia's Tom Davis held hearings on steroid use in baseball last year, which seemed strange to some people. I shudder to think what mischief Waxman must be dreaming up. Ike Skelton of Missouri will chair the House Armed Services Committee, and he has the good sense to reject Charlie Rangel's call for a resumption of the draft. The only real purpose behind that proposal, as far as I can tell, is to undermine public support for the war against Islamic terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan.
So, aside from a few missteps by Ms. Pelosi, the Democrats are poised to take over. [Afterthought: If only they had a coherent policy plan to implement! ] This will be an interesting experience as the Democrats prepare to assume control of both sides of Capitol Hill for the first time since 1994. We will have the "normal" situation of a divided government once again, with Republicans in charge of the Executive Branch, and Democrats in charge of the Legislative Branch. Perhaps that will help to restore the vital center in American politics. Power almost always confers a sense of responsibility, which is manifested in a moderating tendency, policy-wise. Fears that the Democrats will seek to enact a radical agenda are misplaced, not just because President Bush still has veto power (which he has not even used so far!), but because they want to position themselves for a successful 2008 campaign. After all, attaining power also confers a desire to remain in power. That, of course, is the origin of hubris, complacency, and eventual defeat, as the Republicans found out too late. Will the Democrats learn that lesson?