In the spring Harry "weak tea" Reid gave up on meaningful opposition to the Iraq war and allowed a fully funded, no strings attached bill to go to the President's desk. Bush demanded and Congress complied. In the summer it happened again, this time with the FISA law. Each was an embarrassing collapse by the Democratic leadership and each enraged the left wing of the party. Now with fall upon us and the World Series in full swing (har) it's a perfect time to discuss what may be strike three. Each of the previous failures was enormously frustrating to progressives, and now that reauthorization is being discussed it seems like the temperature is near boiling.
The big danger is that people seem almost ready to believe the worst about them. To this point their supporters seem to generally look at them like Casey Stengel did the 1962 Mets - "Can't anyone here play this game?" Congress pleaded insufficient votes with the defense budget and backroom skullduggery with the FISA bill; liberals seemed to reluctantly accept it. In both cases their stated positions enjoyed solid public support. We're now at the point where Congressional leaders can no longer plead ignorance, abundant though that quality is among them. Casual observers know the President likes to wait until the last minute and then storm in as though the redcoats are about to torch the White House. Republicans like to use parliamentary procedures to alter legislation they can't stop and kill legislation they can. If Congress fails to effectively fight back now even the most sympathetic partisans will be left with just one possible conclusion: This is how they want it.
Democrats are hanging by a thread with a base that's already written off most of the rest of Washington. They've given up on principled opposition from the Republicans, while the D.C. media is regarded as willing dupes of the right at worst and irrelevant at best. For irrelevance you can't beat last Sunday's "This Week". From 20:45 to 36:50 you can hear over sixteen minutes of uninterrupted blather. These are among the best-regarded analysts the beltway has to offer and they go on and on interminably with empty-headed electoral horserace chatter about primaries that are still months away. They could have talked about the SCHIP veto, the FISA bill, the Iraq war, upcoming appropriations bills, mercenary crime, profiteering or any number of other current events. Instead they left the impression that they know nothing of substance and would rather speculate endlessly about politics. (Let the record show they take a swipe and the SCHIP veto on the way out.) By far the preferred subject inside the hothouse is...the soap opera inside the hothouse. That they do so for an audience for whom it is irrelevant and uninteresting doesn't seem to occur to them.
With Bush's approval rating flirting with the Mendoza Line liberals are almost desperate for any show of courage. Last week Chris Dodd electrified them with his promise to put a hold on FISA reform. They have finally seen what leadership from their side looks like and they are flocking to it. Harry Reid, looking more and more like Uriah Heep every day, has indicated he will ignore the hold and bring it up for a vote anyway. You will then have the spectacle of a Democrat filibustering his own party's bill and we will have a showdown. Either Reid will work with Republicans and get together enough votes to bring it to the floor, or enough Democrats will stand with Dodd and reject their ostensible leader.
It may not come to that; there may be a less dramatic resolution. But the bottom line is there is an irreconcilable tension between the Democrats and their core supporters. If Dodd backs down you may see more disappointment from them than there was after the 2000 or 2004 presidential elections. They would probably pull back and not give their time, money or energy to anyone on the scene now. Either they'd wait for a new champion within the party or look for a third party candidate. If Dodd holds firm, support will swing solidly behind him and he will be a serious contender for the nomination. If the party gets behind him as well look for a reenergized base to cheer them on. If they make him go it alone they will be largely written off. Either way things have come to a head. One way or another by the end of the year things will look very different.