Momentum in politics often shifts when a political leader or party overplays their hand. When Republicans rushed to pass legislation to prolong the life of brain-damaged Terri Schiavo earlier this year, I noted that much of the public saw it as grandstanding. I also wrote that the beginning of current GOP woes started with the party's Schiavo strategy.
Now the Democrats may be having their turn at costly misjudgment. Their closed-door meeting of Democrats-only in the U.S. Senate on Tuesday of this week was designed with drama in mind. They wanted to bring renewed attention to their claim that the Republicans are still stonewalling an investigation into the intelligence used to justify the Iraq war.
The stunt achieved nothing. If anything, it may one day be looked back on as the day the American public started to take a more positive view of President Bush and the Republicans again.
Yes, a White House indictment and a withdrawn Supreme Court nominee have Republicans on the run.
Even so, the public often senses when opportunistic politicians are trying to reach too far to score partisan blows.
There is now evidence that public support for the Iraq war may be making a slight comeback. Iraqis recently voted to approve a constitution. Now there are hints from the White House that modest numbers of U.S. troops might start to come home before Christmas.
Meanwhile, all the "who shot John" questions about prewar intelligence on weapons of mass destruction don't move the public. Most people know already that the weapons aren't there. Those who still support the war do so for other reasons.
Most who oppose it do so because of American casualties -- WMDs or not. Media have emphasized those casualties almost to the exclusion of any other news from the war front, good or bad. Others condemn the war because they say the American government is spending too much time and money helping other countries and not enough improving its own.
But even blood-happy media had to report the successful constitutional referendum; the one that even Saddam Hussein's Sunnis participated in. The subtext of these reports is that some form of democracy may actually be taking hold in Iraq. (And that voter participation in Iraq exceeds participation in America.)
The Democrats were handed Republican scandals and missteps on a silver platter. But they have managed to fumble them. Now the Democrats are appearing to many to be more concerned with being politically destructive than being policy constructive; and in failing to support American troops in the field in what may be the months of ultimate decision in Iraq.