On Thursday, the new Democratic leadership of Congress must start proving it can live up to the promise that led to their return to power on Capitol Hill.
Incoming Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid say they are "prepared to govern and ready to lead."
The Democrats return to power at a low point in American history. The death toll of American military men and women in President George W. Bush’s illegal and immoral war in Iraq topped 3,000 just before the old year ended and violence continues unabated as that country sinks further and further into uncontrollable civil war.
Bush continues to delay any announcement of any plan, if indeed he has one, on how to change course in Iraq. White House sources tell me the delay stems from Bush’s stubbornness and unwillingness to admit things in Iraq are as bad as everyone else, including his senior advisors, knows.
This leadership vacuum from an increasingly ineffective President leaves Congress with a golden opportunity to step up and take a decisive role in responding to a national crisis.
If they can…or will…or even know how.
Leadership, true leadership, is a lost art in modern American politics. Bush confuses stubborn determination to pursue a failed course as leadership. That inability to separate fantasy from reality cost his party control of Congress and leaves him in political exile from his own party.
Yet the new Democratic leadership in Congress has yet to show it is ready to fill the void. Pelosi’s early missteps in backing the ethically-challenged John Murtha in his failed leadership bid and her backtracking from a firm Iraq withdrawal timetable show she is more cautious politician than strong leader. Reid is so corrupt that some doubt he can finish out his Senate career without ending up in jail.
After winning control of Congress in the 1994 midterm elections, Republicans quickly fell under the spell of power and began backtracking on the promises that helped secure that power. They abandoned promises of term limits, forgot pledges to curtail pork barrel spending and walked away from other parts of their "Contract with America."
Democrats display the same symptoms. They quickly stepped back from any firm timetables for withdrawal of American troops from Iraq and announced a lengthy schedule of hearings and probes into the war and the reasons for launching it – a time consuming process that will last easily into the 2008 elections.
The "moratorium on pork" announced by Democratic leaders applies only to the massive glut of taxpayer bennies the Republicans larded onto bills in the final days of Congress and both Pelosi and Reid already face a mini-revolt in their ranks from Democrats who say they will need that pork to stay in office and keep the folks back home happy.
I can hope the Democrats prove me wrong and start to deliver on the fragile trust from voters.
Perhaps they will surprise all of us and really do something to reform Congress, the election system and the out-of-control bureaucracy in Washington.
Perhaps they will bring the troops home before the death toll hits 6,000 or 12,000 or 25,000.
And perhaps there will be pork in the treetops.