Besides the war in Iraq, last fall's elections, we were told, were supposedly about banishing corrupt representatives and rebuking others who had not adequately heeded the public's wishes. Since Republicans controlled both houses of Congress, a far larger number of the chastened hailed from the right side of the aisle than from the left.
But recent events demonstrate something that plenty of us need to be reminded of: Hubris born of political power is a bipartisan failing. What's astonishing, in fact, is that it has erupted on the left so soon after the Republican's midterm drubbing.
Last week, Rep. Jack Murtha actually made the none-too-veiled threat that his benefactress, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, could leverage budgeting for the Department of Defense if the brass didn't give her the bigger, better airplane she was demanding. It's hard to find words adequate to describe the corruption of someone who'd barter military resources, and therefore national safety, for a lavish perk.
But Mr. Murtha displayed his willingness to trade power for perks almost three decades ago in the Abscam sting. Only cagey caution, not any personal probity, kept him from taking the $50,000 offered by fake lobbyists.
Having escaped indictment, Mr. Murtha served in obscurity until recently, when his opposition to the war in Iraq prompted grateful colleagues to usher the decorated veteran back into the limelight. This latest disgrace reveals where his loyalties lie.
But the original sin was Ms. Pelosi's. Just weeks after promising the dawn of a corruption-free, environmentally sensitive era on Capitol Hill, the new Democratic speaker rejected the 12-seat Gulfstream 3 jet that her Republican predecessor had used and asked for something much larger.
Ms. Pelosi requested the military equivalent of a 757, the most luxurious airplane available for a nonstop coast-to-coast trip. She and her staff had decided that pausing to refuel would be a security risk, having evidently forgotten they can refuel at any of the country's dozens of Air Force bases, the appropriations for which, Mr. Murtha reminded us, Ms. Pelosi controls.
Republicans, still smarting from their November rebuke, are only too happy to exploit this high-flown hypocrisy. Democrats still hopeful that the Pelosi era will be everything she touted had better do some self-examination.
Certain abuses of power arise from a lazy sense of entitlement -- too much comfort from being in power too long. Republicans stumbled on this sort.
Then there are the abuses of power that arise from an aggrieved sense of entitlement denied -- injured pride from being out of power for so long, especially if you think the power in question should rightfully be yours.
This is where Democratic leaders are stumbling already. Judging from their campaign rhetoric, the only surprise is how fast it happened.
For years the left's mantra has been that if elected, they will "take back America." From whom, exactly? From the conservative leaders that a majority of their fellow citizens saw fit to put in office over and over again?
On a television show just after the November election, I applauded the voters who got rid of deadbeat Republicans like Ohio's Robert Ney and Pennsylvania's Curt Weldon, and I added, half in jest, that maybe satisfied Democrats would now cut out the "take back America" posturing, as if their government had been hijacked by aliens.
"And it hadn't?" was a leftist academic's retort. (Usually "leftist academic" is a redundancy, but not always.)
That's it in a nutshell -- breezy disdain for people with whom he disagrees and thus, given most modern election results, disdain for a majority of his countrymen.
That sense of innate superiority permeated John Kerry's "bungled joke" days before the election, a remark which would have been condescending any way it had come out.
Perhaps it's the same attitude that prompted his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, to lecture Pennsylvanians on the need for civilized public discourse and then answer a reporter's straightforward question with a "shove it."
It's the attitude apparent in Mr. Murtha's appalling suggestion that Ms. Pelosi use taxpayer dollars as a weapon to leverage from the Pentagon what she wants.
Though both conservative and liberal political agendas display at times what critics might call "we know what's best for you"-ism, liberals risk the charge more often by virtue of the centralized, top-down solutions they espouse for messy modern problems. ("Hillary Healthcare," anyone?)
The American people don't cotton to condescension-based policies. Reaction to such elitism in the first months of the Clinton administration gave Republicans control of the Congress in 1994. It took 12 years for voters to decide the GOP needed a thrashing.
Mere weeks at the controls, Democratic leaders seem determined to travel this power-to-punishment cycle at Mach speed.
Correction/Clarification: (Published Feb. 15, 2007) The name of former U.S. Rep. Curt Weldon was misspelled in this column as originally published Feb. 12, 2007.
Ruth Ann Dailey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1733.