There was a time when I thought that a Democratic majority in Congress meant that real change was coming our way. During the election cycle, Democrats promised change in several areas, should they be elected. Social Security would be reformed; healthcare would be reformed; the Iraq war would be openly and seriously discussed and re-evaluated. The American people wanted this change, so when Election Day came, they voted Democrats into the majority seat in the Legislature for the first time in twelve years. America held its breath for the last two months that it would have to endure the Republican majority. And then, on January 4, 2007, Democrats took the reigns.
And then...nothing. Well, not nothing, but certainly not much. Some excitement over the first female Speaker of the House, a little campaign finance reform, and a bit of discussion involving the areas in which Democrats promised change. This discussion, though, has been rather disgraceful and disappointing. The Democratic majority has not pushed as strongly as they should for the things that got them elected.
Consider the Iraq debate. For the first few months of their newfound power, all the Democrats did was push for non-binding resolutions denouncing the war. These resolutions didn't really mean anything, and even if they did they were weakly worded. Overall, fewer words were used in these resolutions to denounce the war than to pledge support for the troops - a cause that, as I spoke of in an earlier blog, would best be served by bringing them home. Democrats allowed themselves to be pushed around, adding pointless sections to pointless resolutions, fearing that if their Iraq war denunciation did not include "but we support the troops," the American people would turn on them.
Even as they have attempted to take the debate more seriously, they've allowed themselves to be pushed around. Their new Iraq war budget plan includes timetables for American withdrawal - an excellent step in the right direction. But they've allowed the president and his Republican cronies to hold the moral high ground: Bush has promised to veto the bill, and every day he denounces Congress for not passing an acceptable budget. Congressional Democrats don't realize that if they shot back, saying that Bush was the one refusing to pass an acceptable budget, the American people would agree with them. So they just take the tongue lashing, and continue to push for a bill that promises an automatic veto, without applying pressure on Bush to support it.
Change in other areas has been even slower in coming. The disgrace of an Iraq war debate has occupied most of the Democrats' attention, so the other things they promised simply aren't on the docket. Where's the Social Security or healthcare reform? Where's the revocation of Bush's ignorant 2001 and 2003 tax cuts? Where are the Democrats we were promised?
It would appear that Congressional Democrats grew so used to their minority role from 1994 to 2006 that they don't realize just how powerful they can be. A stronger group of lawmakers in place of the disorderly mob we see today could really fulfill Democratic promises to the people. A stronger group of lawmakers could stand up to the president and his followers.
Congress, not the president, was set forth in the Constitution as the most powerful branch of the American government. But in recent decades, and especially with the Bush administration, presidential power has become paramount in Washington. If Democrats turned their attention to the Constitution, they could easily find support to call for a reversal of this trend. At the same time, Congressional power would be expanded. America would stop sliding farther and farther into becoming a dictatorship, and move instead closer to true Democracy. Congressional Democrats could lead this fight against expanding presidential power, and in doing so would probably gain even more support from the people.
But I no longer have very high hopes for the weaklings who hold this responsibility, as well as the other pressing demands of Congress. I am overall quite disappointed in them. The position they're in is perfect for pulling America in the right direction, but they simply don't seem capable of this.
My last hope for them lies in the attorney scandal. If they can stand up to the challenges of the Congressional vs. Presidential power struggle that this has caused and will continue to fuel, then perhaps they're not doomed. And perhaps, after all, their legacy will not be one of disappointment.