Republican to the Rescue!

So Senator James Jeffords of Vermont is going to leave the Republican Party and become an independent. The Democrats will take control of the Senate, even while the ancient Strom Thurmond (who switched parties himself back in the Mesozoic period) is still shuffling along. Jeffords has long been one of the GOP's most liberal members. And ever since the characteristically spiteful Republicans started talking revenge after Jeffords made them tone down their tax bill, he has been sidling up to the less venomous crowd on the other side of the aisle.

It's a big day for the Democrats. A day on which a whole series of lame and weak-kneed deeds -- perpetrated by the Dems since Bush barged into the White House -- are getting richly rewarded.

From the minute Bush assumed the presidency, the Democrats have been acting like Xavier High Junior Varsity playing the New York Knicks. Though they had the power to stop him, the Dems immediately signaled their meekitude by confirming a Pat Robertson-Republican for Attorney General and the earth-plundering Gale Norton as Interior Secretary. They had a virtual love-fest with the rest of Bush's moderately-to-extremely horrifying nominees.

Then came the tax cut. The Democrats issued press releases proclaiming what a naughty boy Bush is. But though they did have the power to stop him, they coddled the bad little dude, and all but begged for minor revisions.

James Jeffords, on the other hand, has shown exemplary courage. In a party that takes whipping seriously, he's built up a record that typifies what Fox News would probably deem Ted Kennedy-esque commie-pinkoism. He's pro-choice, pro-gay rights, pro-gun control, and supports the minimum wage. He's made expanding health care coverage a key goal -- not exactly the way to join the popular clique in the GOP.

Jeffords has also been one of the loudest proponents of increased education spending. And this session, when the Democrats were about to roll on the tax cut, it was Jeffords who jumped in, along with a few other Senate moderates, forcing his party to reduce the tax cut from Bush's $1.6 trillion over 10 years to $1.35 trillion over 11.

That's brave, because he had to know that the party of Ken Starr would retaliate. It did. The Bush Administration immediately started hinting it would oppose a program to assist dairy farmers -- one that is key to the financial health of Jeffords' state. And when Bush held a ceremony honoring a Vermont teacher, he didn't invite Jeffords to the party.

Now, under extraordinary pressure from the White House, GOP party leaders, and even his own staff, Jeffords is leaving the Republican Party. How fitting. After a season of Democratic lollygagging, the man who's giving the Democrats the biggest jolt since the election is a Republican.

I want to hug the man. I want to write him a big fat check. I'm coming this close to wanting Jeffords to become the new majority leader. And if it weren't for Jeffords' support for anti-union efforts and other Republican causes (he must have had some reason for being a Republican, after all), I'd be spray-painting his name on the Leader's office soon to be vacated by Trent Lott (yippee!). Instead I'll suggest -- no, plead: Democrats, take the example of your Republican pal. Do something -- rather, lots of things -- outrageous and courageous. (Zell Miller, I don't mean you.)

All this time, the Democrats have had the power to block Bush's dastardly crusade. But they didn't. Now, even Tom Daschle can't pretend he doesn't have the power. It's time for the Democrats to make the best of this stroke of luck most of them haven't really earned. This tax bill can and should be the very last Bush victory.

Think, Senator Dashle: What would Jeffords do?