With the final capitulation of George Allen in the race to represent Virginia in the Senate on Thursday, the GOP majority in the upper house of Congress became extinct, completing the mid-term election sweep that began with governorships and the House of Representatives. Clearly unhappy with the direction of the country under the leadership of George W. Bush and the Republican legislature, Americans proved that - despite obstacles like robocalls, voter intimidation, and voting machine breakdowns - democracy in the United States is still functional despite the wounds it has suffered under the current president.
... Americans took a stand against the politics of personal destruction -- rebuffing the onslaught of negative advertising and dirty tricks. Voters let themselves be heard and ordered a change in government, giving Democrats the opportunity to serve the nation and to provide the leadership that's been missing these past six years in Washington. With this opportunity comes great responsibility, and we must take the challenges ahead seriously, soberly and with clarity of purpose -- on issues like health care, the economy, education, and most of all, Iraq and national security.
Indeed, now is no time for Democrats to rest on their laurels, and no time for once-long shot campaigners to be startled by their own success. Fortunately, despite all manner of aspersions cast on her leadership, incoming Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has an agenda for the first 100 hours and beyond that includes:
- Breaking ties between lobbyists and legislators
- Fully enacting the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission
- Increasing the minimum wage
- Reducing the interest rate on federal student loans
- Allowing the government to negotiate directly with the pharmaceutical companies for lower Medicare drug prices
- Broadening the types of stem cell research supported with federal funds
These goals are not grandiose, but they are crucial steps that will both produce tangible public benefit and stand in stark contrast to the scandal and cronyism that have been endemic to Capitol Hill in recent years. Further, we can expect the new Democratic majority to pursue deficit reduction through roll-backs of Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, as well as to restore congressional oversight of the president, and to pressure the White House to stabilize and withdraw (or at least "withdraw honorably") from Iraq. These latter two are almost certain to engender a showdown with President Bush and Vice President Cheney, who - apparently having slept through civics class as freshmen in high school - make no secret of their contempt for restraints on executive power.
While there have been complaints that the Democrats haven't expressed a coherent vision, all of this will be more than enough to occupy national attention, shape an identity for the party as the 2008 election approaches, and most significantly, begin to undo some of the havoc wrought on the country by the GOP.
Despite her frequent demonization by rightwing pundits, Ms. Pelosi has a well-deserved reputation as a tough and disciplined politician, and justifiable criticisms of her party aside, she has played a significant role in leading Democrats back to power after 12 years in the wilderness of opposition. She is not going to be the first female Speaker of the House by accident.
Nonetheless, she and her Senate counterpart, Harry Reid, will have their hands full if they are to successfully balance the needs and desires of the party faithful with those of the country as a whole, all while exercising oversight, checking presidential power, and avoiding temptations to reach beyond their grasp.
Importantly, it must also be remembered that the role of the public is not complete with the close of the polls. For although Ms. Pelosi has pledged that "Democrats will create the most open and honest government in history," we must hold her to her word. While it is to be hoped that the new Speaker will be reminded of the consequences of over-reaching whenever she looks across the aisle, the real work begins now, and there is no substitute for an informed - and involved - public.