John Lewis got up and proclaimed, “I don't want to preach.” But Lewis hails from Troy, Alabama, and graduated from the American Baptist Theological Seminary in 1961. He walked with Martin Luther King Jr. from Selma to Montgomery, and so when he says he doesn't want to preach, it just means that he's going to have to.
That's why Nancy Pelosi's weekly lunch for members of the Democratic caucus turned into a revival meeting recently when Lewis began beseeching members who are defending safe seats to give money from to help fund the campaign of Democrats in tough races. Lewis himself promised to pony up $100,000. By the end of the lunch, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) had pledges of nearly $400,000.
Chris Bell will tell you frankly that one term in Congress has hardened his politics.
“I am a more partisan Democrat that I was,” he says. “The place makes you more partisan.”
But he will also tell you that this deepened sense of partisanship is not what caused him to file an ethics complaint against his fellow Texan, Majority Leader Tom DeLay. And he laughs at the assertion that his charges will make the House a nastier, more uncomfortable place to work.
“There could not be a more caustic partisan atmosphere than what exists in the House of Representatives right now,” he says, “and much of it is caused by the individual who is the subject of this complaint.”
Candidate George W. Bush promised to be a uniter, not a divider, and it's hard to dispute the notion that as president he has botched that pledge. Indeed, Dick Gephardt's “miserable failure” refrain may have been invented for Bush's performance in bringing the country together. Still, in time, Democrats may look back fondly and remember Bush as the great unifier. That's because, in at least one respect, he has kept his promise to bring people closer.
We live in an age of extreme contrariness and unintended consequences, so it is hardly a surprise to hear Democrats on Capitol Hill praising Ronald Reagan for his leadership and his commitment to restoring America's greatness. While the aspiration to a certain graciousness and respect at a time like this is understandable, one must be willfully forgetful not to understand the undercurrents of ambivalence and reticence that attend the Democratic accolades.
Ronald Reagan, after all, was the person who did the most to dismember and demoralize the Democratic Party in the 1980s, putting in place a conservatism so attractive to many Americans that Democrats still have not found a comfortable way to counterpunch against it.