Political Role Reversals Suggest Pains of Power Shift

Those with a nagging sense of political déjà vu can relax. They really have seen it all before — in reverse, sort of.

Republicans who once accused Democrats of violating states' rights are now being charged with the same. Liberals who accused conservatives of being party to a "vast right-wing conspiracy" are now associated with a dark effort on the other side of the spectrum.

And while Democratic senators once implored their Republican counterparts to give presidential judicial nominees an "up-or-down vote," they now stand in the way of GOP nominees getting one themselves.

All in all, the complaints are pretty much the same, but the complainers have switched sides of the aisle.

"I think that political rhetoric today is thick with hypocrisy," said Nathan Gonzales, an analyst with the Washington, D.C.-based Rothenberg Political Report. He added that in this town, such role reversals aren't new.

"I think the rhetoric is in direct correlation with your position of power, and the sides choose their arguments whether they are in the majority or in the minority," he said.

"On most issues, voters have a short memory, but I think there is a danger of losing credibility if you make accusations and are then currently guilty of doing the same things," Gonzales added.

When then-first lady Hillary Clinton (search) coined the phrase "vast right-wing conspiracy" during a television interview in 1998 in response to allegations that her husband, President Bill Clinton, had had an affair with a White House intern, conservatives howled, accusing her of scapegoating and not facing facts. They even adopted the label "vast right-wing conspiracy" with a note of pride.

But much of embattled House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's (search) line of defense nowadays against charges he acted unethically in office echoes the former first lady's much maligned protestations. He has blamed the "liberal media" and organized special-interest campaigns more than once for his troubles.

"There is a concerted, publicly announced strategy," DeLay told the Sugar Land Rotary Club in his hometown in Texas last month, according to the Fort Bend/Southwest Sun newspaper. "It's not about me, it's what I stand for and I have accomplished. (Billionaire) George Soros is behind this and millions of dollars have been raised."

Conservatives say DeLay is right on the money by pointing to liberal media and activists like Soros.

"It's amazing how the liberal press has turned on DeLay," said New York-based Republican pollster Jim McLaughlin. "I don't think there is any question."

But Democrats argue that DeLay is trying to get around serious charges by arguing a grand left-wing effort to get him.

"It's a role reversal and you have to go after him" for it, said Tom King, a Democratic media consultant in Washington, D.C.

Constitutional Challenges

Role reversals in the 109th Congress are also apparent in the Senate, amid the touchy issue of Democratic filibustering of President Bush's judicial nominees.

Republicans have accused Democrats of obstructing a full Senate vote on a handful of Bush judgeships held in committee limbo for more than a year. Democrats argue that they are blocking seven judicial nominees because the candidates represent the far-right extremes on issues of affirmative action, business interests and women's rights. They claim that Republicans did the same thing to Clinton's candidates in the 1990s — blocking votes on his nominees because they were supposedly too far to the left.

In an impassioned 1999 plea for Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee to allow Clinton judicial nominees an "up-or-down vote," Sen. Edward Kennedy invoked the senators' duty.

"That is what these good and decent people have the right to expect. This is what our oath of office should compel members to do — to vote for or against," Kennedy said. "When we leave, we can only look back and say: What kind of service did we give? Did we put the country's interests first? Or did we put partisan interest first?"

That doesn't sound much different from the words of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist in a televised speech to a church event organized by the conservative Family Research Council on April 24.

"I don't think it's radical to ask senators to vote. I don't think it's radical to expect senators to fulfill their constitutional responsibilities," Frist said, suggesting that Democrats who would oppose the president's nominees are anti-faith.

Gonzales said this kind of role reversal has been going on forever in American politics — it just hasn't been as evident until the last decade, when a clear shift in power took place on Capitol Hill. Today, the Republican Party holds the White House and both chambers of Congress. Democrats dominated the White House and much of Congress in the mid-1990s and over the four decades before that.

"Then, we didn't see the role reversal go back and forth as much," Gonzales said, adding that the tight margin of power adds to the turnarounds. "Because races today are more competitive, we see the roles change much more often."

Attempting to Overreach

Now in control of the budgets, Republicans have found that their old stereotype for Democrats as big government spenders is being thrown right back at them. And with recent GOP-inspired legislation to intervene in the case of brain-damaged Florida patient Terri Schiavo, Republicans are being accused of the same abuse of power Democrats were once chastised for demonstrating.

"If you don't think you are going to be accountable and there are no consequences for what you do, it'll lead to overreaching," Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., told the Chicago Tribune back in November.

Emanuel's argument seems to echo one made last year by former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey as he reflected on the 1992 Democratic-controlled Congress.

"They controlled everything," Armey told a 2004 audience at the Cato Institute. "They committed extraordinarily scary overreaches."

American University politics professor Richard Semiatin told FOXNews.com that the feeling or sense that the same day keeps getting repeated over and over is partly due to politicians' always living in the moment and often failing to see their blatant contradictions as fodder for charges of hypocrisy.

"We live in a 24-hour news cycle and members of Congress are very, very reactive right now and that kind of dictates what happens," said Semiatin, adding that his explanation does not get lawmakers off the hook.

"Are they hypocritical? Of course they are," he said. "Will they find excuses to explain it away? Of course they will."