Republicans in the US Congress and White House should worry. The Democrats have started their comeback.
Yes, Republican triumphs in the midterm elections were impressive. The Grand Old Party reclaimed control of the Senate and gained seats in the House.
The advances conflict with tradition for midterm elections, in which the party of a first-term US president usually suffers.
The best explanation for Republican successes this month is probably the simplest one: Facing a terrorist threat, US voters migrated to the party usually more committed to—or at least less squeamish about—national security.
Democrats responded swiftly in the House, where Dick Gephardt of Missouri resigned as minority leader to be replaced by Nancy Pelosi of California, formerly the minority whip.
Pelosi represents one of the most solidly Democratic districts in the country and is consistently very liberal in her views and voting. She's certainly more liberal than Gephardt.
Here, for example, is her June 13 response to the Bush administration's clarification of rules for New Source Review permitting under the Clean Air Act:
"Today the Bush administration launched an attack on the health of our nation's children."
Can there be any doubt about the politics behind that statement?
Some Republicans welcome Pelosi's election to lead House Democrats. They think she's too liberal for most Americans.
Some Democrats regret the development for the same reason.
It's the Republicans who should worry. Pelosi might indeed be more ideologically liberal than most Americans. But that doesn't mean she'll be ineffective.
Americans reward conviction but detest extremism. Truly influential politicians clearly state and act on their beliefs and use pragmatism as a buffer against the excesses to which their convictions might otherwise lead.
Many politicians simply assert pragmatism as their primary belief and shy away from conviction.
Pelosi won't make that mistake. No one will wonder where she stands. So she'll stand out. And she'll have influence.
At the very least, she'll force politicians in both parties to look up from the opinion polls and decide where their values are. Politics will improve because of it.
(Online Nov. 15, 2002; author's e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)