Now that they're in the majority in the United States Senate, Democrats can either show the American people that bipartisanship and compromise are more than political words that fit neatly into television soundbites, or they can use their new-found muscle to fight President Bush and the Republicans in Congress -- and suffer the consequences in the 2002 election.
Majority Leader Tom Daschle has made it clear that his party intends to work with the Bush administration and the GOP in addressing such important issues as education, energy and health care. If Daschle is true to his word, he and his party will be rewarded at the next election. Their takeover of the Senate was not the result of a change in voter sentiment -- the Republicans had been in control for the past six years -- but rather Vermont Sen. James Jeffords' decision to leave the party and become an Independent.
That switch gave the Democrats a 50-49 vote edge and elevated Daschle to the top of the heap. But with Republicans in control of the White House and the House of Representatives, bipartisanship and compromise must be the order of the day. The American people have grown weary of the bickering that has emanated from Capitol Hill and have said in poll after poll that this country should be governed from the center.
Compassion: Indeed, Bush ran for president last year on a "compassionate conservatism" platform and won over voters with his pledge to engender a new spirit of cooperation between the two major parties.
But for the past five months, the president has not had to make good on those promises because his party has controlled the Senate and House. Sen. Jeffords' decision to resign from the GOP was prompted, in part, by his opinion that Bush had been leaning too much to the right and had largely ignored the moderate wing of the party.
By becoming an Independent, Jeffords has changed the political landscape in Washington, which Bush, to his credit, seems to understand better than some leaders of his party, most especially Sen. Trent Lott, R- Miss.
Lott keeps talking about a "war" in the Senate, while Bush is hoping for peace.
In the end, it is the American people who will suffer if these elected officials don't get their act together.