As with any new regime, Sen. Harry Reid and Rep. Nancy Pelosi are enjoying a media honeymoon for the moment — especially Pelosi, because of her status as the first woman in line to become House speaker and her grandmother-of-five persona. That may not last long. But where will journalists set the performance bar?
If the Democrats don’t pass much legislation, or if they craft bills that Bush vetoes, will the press blame them for gridlock? If they start rejecting one Bush nominee after another, will the press say they are obstructionist? If, after railing against Republican corruption, they pass only cosmetic ethics reform, will the press say they were all talk and no action?
When Democratic committee chairmen issue subpoenas and conduct oversight hearings, will news accounts portray them as harassing the White House? Or will journalists recognize that aggressive congressional inquiries were a normal practice until the GOP Congress, which loved to investigate the Clinton White House, essentially stopped scrutinizing the Bush administration? And if Senate Republicans who denounced Democratic filibusters start trying to talk things to death, will journalists call them on the double standard?
While Bush retains the biggest megaphone, Democratic leaders will be getting more television time now that they control the House and Senate. In a media-drenched culture, the sound-bite warfare may prove as important as the legislative maneuvering.
Typically when the press chatises the Democrats, it’s for not doing more to stymie the Bush administration or champion left-wing policies. Watch for them to hit the Dems for that and call it “being tough on both parties.”