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On a Roll

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Streaks are one of the great mysteries of sports. Why do teams and athletes have periods where they are on fire and nothing seems to go wrong, and other times when they are totally cold and can't seem to buy a break?

Hot streaks, like cold ones, aren't confined to sports. They happen in business, politics, and life. Since Labor Day, Democrats have unquestionably been enjoying a hot streak, and President Bush and his Republican Party have been suffering through a cold spell.

The GOP has been buffeted by an unrelenting series of scandals, embarrassments, and misfortunes. Last September, the party was rocked by the violence and casualty levels in Iraq and by the Mark Foley congressional page scandal.

More recently, Republicans have been hurt by the Walter Reed Army Medical Center scandal; the conviction of I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff; and the questions of inappropriate interference with U.S. attorneys -- charges that seem quite likely to cost Attorney General Alberto Gonzales his job any day now.

Arguably, the only good news for Republicans in more than six months has been Robert Gates's taking over as secretary of Defense and Lt. Gen. David Petraeus's assuming command of U.S. forces in Iraq. Other than that, it has been all pretty bleak. But in sports and life, every streak ends. So the question is, when will the GOP's adversity and the Democrats' good fortune run their course?

On Capitol Hill, Democrats have been surprisingly cautious, mindful of past mistakes and determined not to repeat them.

They have been careful not to over-interpret their mandate, and have avoided many of the hot-button issues and excessive tendencies that caused their party to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory many times. Guns and abortion, for example, tripped up Democrats in the past, costing them support among union members, voters in red states, and social conservatives.

This time, mindful of the "tax-and-spend" label that stuck to them for so long, Democrats have avoided any talk of tax increases and have instituted "pay-as-you-go" rules for parts of the budget.

Despite pressure from their base, leading congressional Democrats are trying to bring an end to the war in Iraq without drawing the charge of being weak on defense, a reputation that has haunted them since the Vietnam War. Top Democrats have been content to apply increasing pressure to try to force the Bush administration to scale down and get out of Iraq.

After Democrats took over the House and Senate, one of the biggest potential pitfalls they faced was abusing their newfound investigative powers -- being seen as engaging in witch-hunts and focusing more on exacting revenge than on dealing with thorny and important issues.

But, in fact, Democrats have very cautiously pushed the dirt out the door, leaking to news organizations the stories that have caused so much trouble for Bush and the GOP, and then diligently "following up on allegations" rather than making the initial charges themselves. Like Capt. Renault in "Casablanca," Democrats are "shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here."

The fact is, the biggest sin that House Democrats have been guilty of this year is being hardly better than Republicans were about allowing the minority party to offer amendments on the floor -- even though Democrats complained bitterly about being shut out before they recaptured control. But that's "inside baseball." Most voters have no grasp of House rules or of Democrats' hypocrisy on this score.

At some point, Republicans might respond in kind -- emptying their file cabinets of opposition research on various Democrats, trying to put them on the defensive as well. As the saying goes, you make your own luck.

Republicans should try to make some good luck, try to retake command of the situation -- right now. They are getting their brains beaten in. And if they wait too long, they will be in no shape to win an election, congressional or presidential.

 
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