New Congress, Old Politics

Don’t get too drunk on the bubbly yet, fellow Democrats.

“Control” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

This is not like winning the White House. That’s “control.”

When you win the presidency, you get control of the entire executive branch. You can run the foreign policy of the most powerful country on earth. You can issue executive orders without asking anyone. You can appoint judges and justices who serve for life.

When you win control of Congress, you can schedule hearings. You can run the House post office and the page program. You get better offices, and more staff people.

You also get attacked for not having a plan. That’s why Rush Limbaugh says he’s liberated. He’s liberated to start attacking. But that doesn’t mean Democrats have power. When was the last time you heard anyone talking about the powerful House Republicans? Not. Or the powerhouse Senate Republicans? And there were more of them then there will be Senate Democrats.

Control is a misnomer for what happens when you have 51 senators of the same party. Fifty-one senators means 51 would-be, could-be, should have been presidents, and unanimity about nothing.

The good news for Democrats is that Democrats of every stripe won on Tuesday – liberal and conservative, left and right, moderate and not-so-moderate. That’s the bad news too. It isn’t a recipe for getting things done.

As for a mandate, the Democrats didn’t exactly run on a plan for America. It was more like, “we’re not Bush,” and “vote against the war.” To the extent that Democrats have a mandate, it’s to do something about the war, although exactly what – other than having it lead to bringing the troops home – isn’t clear.

So what they’re likely to do is hold hearings. Lots of them. Hearings are sort of like Congress’ version of reality television. Now it’s in the Democrats’ hands. So you get a whole set of new series.

But laws are a different matter.

Whatever Congressional Democrats want to do on that score requires the president’s signature. Democrats obviously don’t have the votes to override a presidential veto, so there you are, stuck working with the president. That’s what all the mumblings about bipartisanship are about.

And what will Congressional Republicans be doing? Falling in love as well? Because the reality is that everybody will have to get along to get anything done.

Dream on.

You can tell me I’m being a cynic if I can tell you I told you so.

Ask yourself: Is George Bush really out to make the Reid/Pelosi team look good? Or vice versa? Which side has the power to compel the other side to come to the table? In whose interest is it, other than maybe the average citizen’s, to make such a partnership work? Could they if they wanted to? Can zebras change their stripes?

There is a famous story everyone tells in politics (and elsewhere, I’m sure) about the scorpion and the frog. The scorpion wants to cross the river but he can’t swim, so he asks the frog for a ride. The frog says, “How do I know you won’t sting me?” and the scorpion says, “If I sting you, you will die, and I will die with you.”

Convinced, the frog gives the scorpion a ride. Twice, the scorpion is tempted to sting the frog but restrains himself. The third time, he succumbs. Just as the frog is about to die, he says to the scorpion, “Why? Why?” and the scorpion replies, “It’s my nature.”

Bush and the Democrats? There’s a lot of nature to overcome.

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Susan Estrich is currently the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California and a member of the Board of Contributors of USA Today. She writes the "Portia" column for American Lawyer Media and is a contributing editor of The Los Angeles Times. She was appointed by the president to serve on the National Holocaust Council and by the mayor of the City of Los Angeles to serve on that city's Ethics Commission.

Estrich's books include the just published "Soulless," "Real Rape," "Getting Away with Murder: How Politics Is Destroying the Criminal Justice System," "Dealing with Dangerous Offenders," "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women" and "Sex & Power," currently a Los Angeles Times bestseller.

She served as campaign manager for Michael Dukakis' presidential bid, becoming the first woman to head a U.S. presidential campaign. Estrich appears regularly on the FOX News Channel.

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