One clear indication that things had changed [after the 2004 elections] came in the fall of 2005 when Republicans went after Jack Murtha. Two years earlier, Democrats had stood silently by while the GOP viciously attacked Daschle, comparing him to Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. But when newly-elected Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio) called Murtha a coward during a House budget debate, Democrats shouted her down and booed. Schmidt was forced to return and ask her remarks be stricken from the record, the parliamentary equivalent of eating her words. Later in the debate, when Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) taunted conservative Democrats as “lapdogs,” Democratic Rep. Marion Berry (D-Ark.) shot back, calling him a “Howdy-Doody looking nimrod.” As the House chair tried to gavel down the fracas that followed, shouting, “The House is out of order,” California Democrat Rep. George Miller could be heard yelling back, “You're out of order!”
Perhaps figuring they have little left to lose, Democrats have begun turning up the heat in countless small ways. When in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Bush quietly suspended the Davis-Bacon Act in order to allow federal contractors to avoid paying the prevailing wage to workers involved in clean-up efforts, Miller led Democrats in handing the president a rare defeat. Appalled that “the President has exploited a national tragedy to cut workers' wages,” Miller unearthed a little-used provision of a 1976 law that allows Congress to countermand the president's authority to suspend laws after a national emergency. While it is usually nearly impossible for Democrats to get bills through the all-powerful House Rules Committee, Miller's maneuver would have bypassed that step and guaranteed an automatic vote by the full House. Bush, faced with a vote he was sure to lose, reversed his earlier action and reinstated Davis-Bacon.
So it is that Democrats can be “hopelessly divided” while voting together 88 percent of the time, according to Congressional Quarterly; just one percentage point lower than the vaunted lock-step Republican caucus. They can be “pathetically ineffective” while dealing a humiliating defeat to the president's biggest domestic policy effort. They can be deemed “weak” and “timid” while setting the terms of the debate for pulling troops out of Iraq.
It seems the only way this particular narrative is going to change is with a Democratic victory in November. “They'll have to pay attention to us if we win,” Slaughter told me. Taking back either house of Congress while battling the idea that they're a weak, ineffective party with no ideas won't be easy for Democrats. But stranger things have happened. Just ask Newt Gingrich.
There is also a shout-out to Josh Marshall, who used to write for the Monthly, and now runs TPM. That's right, folks, a news magazine article actually blew apart the traditional narrative of beltway journalistic cocktail-weenie addicts while, get this, citing a non-rightwing blogger in a good way.
Something strange is happening in Mediatown, USA.