The Democrats stand up

By Tim Grieve

Published February 2, 2005 10:55PM (EST)

The Democrats may never achieve the sort of "message discipline" that Karl Rove's Republicans seem to pull off in their sleep, but they're making a pretty good show of solidarity -- and some backbone to boot -- as George W. Bush prepares to deliver his State of the Union address.

Some of it is symbolic: House Democrats will make sure that a lot of senior citizens are sitting in the gallery tonight when Bush makes his pitch for privatizing Social Security. But some of it is substantive: Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid vowed Tuesday that not a single Senate Democrat will support Bush's plan to divert Social Security taxes into private investment accounts. If Reid is right, Democrats will be able to prevent the privatization plan from ever coming to a vote in the Senate. "President Bush should forget about privatizing Social Security," Reid said Tuesday. "It will not happen."

Reid will help with the Democrats' response to Bush's speech tonight, and the excerpts released so far suggest that he won't be going easy on the president. Reid will say that Bush's Social Security plan "would take our already record high $4.3 trillion national debt and put us another $2 trillion in the red." With an eye on reframing the "moral values" debate, Reid will say that it is "immoral" to dump the burden of Social Security on the backs of future generations.

And the State of the Union address isn't the only battleground on which Democrats in the Senate are fighting. Maybe they're getting inspiration from their feistier-than-expected Senate leader, or maybe Howard Dean's ascension in the DNC race is sending a message about what is expected of them, but one way or another, the Democrats in the Senate seem to be awakening from their post-election slumber.

While they gave Condoleezza Rice a relatively easy ride to the State Department, the Democrats are -- with just a few exceptions -- holding together in opposition to Alberto Gonzales. On the Senate floor this afternoon, Sen. Ted Kennedy lit into Gonzales, saying that he was "at the center of a torture policy that has run roughshod over the values that Americans hold so dear." Gonzales will still be confirmed -- the Democrats have decided not to try to filibuster his nomination -- but he won't be get the nod in time for Bush to claim victory in his State of the Union address tonight, and he may end up getting even more "no" votes than John Ashcroft did four years ago.

The Democrats' new-found fortitude won't change what happened on Nov. 2, and it won't put John Kerry at the podium tonight. But on a Groundhog Day that promises four more years of George W. Bush, it's a sliver of hope that something better may some day come -- or at least that the Democrats will go down fighting for it.

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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