Democrats promised they would practice a political Golden Rule, doing unto Republicans what they wished Republicans had done unto them. I recommended such a strategy for Republicans in 1994, suggesting that kindness and inclusiveness would serve Republicans better in the long run than a victory dance on Democrats' political grave. That advice was ignored, contributing to Democratic anger and bitterness and to the Republican defeat last November.
Democrats now face the same temptations that power always brings and the same pressures from their liberal interest groups that Republicans faced 12 years ago from their conservative interest groups. Unlike the Republicans, however, Democrats promised to behave differently. They claimed to have learned their lessons from the way they used to treat Republicans - and the way Republicans treated them. Apparently they will not be different, at least not until they push through their agenda that includes a minimum wage increase and ethics reform.
It is ethics reform that will - and should - receive the most attention. Voters have not trusted government for some time and the polls show their approval ratings for Congress are even lower than President Bush's approval numbers. The House will first consider ethics rules for itself and next month plans to take up bipartisan lobbying reform legislation proposed by Rep. Marty Meehan (D-MA) and Christopher Shays (R-CT) that would create an Office of Public Integrity to help enforce the new rules.
Will the Democratic leadership live up to the public's expectations, or down to their political lower natures? Democrats have a unique opportunity to reinvent themselves and restore public confidence. For the sake of the national interest, I'm hoping they rise to that occasion, but politicians being who and what they are, I'm betting they'll yield to temptation and conduct business as usual. But for the country's sake, I hope I'm wrong.
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