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Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Democrats have two years
By ROBYN BLUMNER
Published November 12, 2006
After all the books and articles proclaiming that Republicans were the permanent new majority, that their demographic, structural and money advantages were unstoppable and that the electorate could be ruled by fearmongering - a Republican speciality - Election Day 2006 proved the sages wrong. There is a limit to how much incompetence, greed, corruption, prevarication, secrecy and sanctimony the American people will stand. No news could be more comforting.
Like a fading actor consigned to play summer stock to find an enthusiastic audience, President Bush spent the waning days before the vote campaigning in the country's reddest blind-mice districts. But even there, he wasn't always a welcome presence. In Florida, Charlie Crist, the Republican candidate for governor, passed on an opportunity to stand by the president in Pensacola on the eve of the election, leaving the White House red-faced and fumbling. The Karl Rove magic somehow wore off two years before it was supposed to. Bush must have awoken Wednesday morning with a hangover as fierce as any of the alcohol-fueled ones he nursed during the frat-boy years.
As Republicans lick their self-inflicted wounds, the Democrats should be on notice. They have two years to prove that they are the party of integrity and accountability. They have two years to prove that they have more fiscal discipline than the other guys. They have two years to prove that they are true public servants and not water-carriers for special interests. They have two years to prove that they are willing to tackle real challenges beyond terrorism that face our nation, such as oil dependency, global warming and finding a way to bring back shared prosperity.
The Democrats' first order of business should be to reintroduce pay-as-you-go budgeting rules, where all tax cuts and increased expenditures have to be financed by added revenues or spending reductions. If this means some of the Democrats' pet ideas, like a $4,000 college tuition tax deduction, have to go by the wayside, so be it. Little giveaways to the middle class look like irresponsible bribes when they are granted during deficit spending. Instead, it is far more important that Democrats prove they are better at handling the checkbook than were the Republicans, who piled overdraft notices to the sky.
Because the Democrats won't hold a veto-proof majority, it isn't likely that they will be able to force through a legislative agenda, but they should push anyway, as they intend to. Let Bush veto a bill that lifts restrictions on federal funding of stem cell research. Let him and his Senate Republicans pay the political consequences for blocking a bill that allows the federal government to negotiate for lower drug prices under Medicare. Let them try to defend multibillion-dollar oil company subsidies.
Then the Democrats should show some political courage on Medicare and Social Security reform by offering ways to shore up their solvency, even if that means asking Americans for some sacrifice. Voters want to see Democrats offer leadership.
With their new majority, Democrats will finally have the power to investigate the slimy dealings of the Tom DeLay era and all those Bush administration officials who are really just industry shills. Rep. Henry Waxman of California, the ranking minority member of the House Government Reform Committee, whose diligent efforts to look under rocks have been stymied by his lack of subpoena power, is among a coterie of key Democrats who will now have the tools needed to hold corporate cheats and their government enablers accountable.
Care should be taken, though. Too many investigations into a recalcitrant administration will soon become counterproductive. In my view, it is not worth getting bogged down with the lies leading to the Iraq war. Investigate Iraq with an eye toward moving forward and focus on issues like the $3.5-billion in questionable charges made by companies awarded Iraqi rebuilding contracts on which the GAO recently reported. Show you will be diligent overseers of the public weal.
Then do something really startling: When K Street calls and you get invited back to play, don't answer.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, who is slated to become speaker of the House, says the Democrats "intend to lead the most honest, the most open and the most ethical Congress in history." I hope she means it and can deliver. Bush jokingly offered Pelosi the name of a decorator in case she might like to put up new drapes (because of course that's the first thing a female House speaker would be concerned with), but the coming changes can't be window dressing.
Get this right and the country can be set back on course, with checks and balances, a respect for the rule of law, ethical standards and a grownup's understanding of fiscal responsibility. Screw it up, and the dark times will descend again.