Opposing Forces Congressional Dems pledge to go on attack. By Terence Samuel Web Exclusive: 11.15.04 In a sharp contrast with how they reacted to the close election loss of 2000, Democrats seem more ready than ever for a fight with President George W. Bush and his expanded GOP majorities on Capitol Hill. It may be that theyre just putting on a brave face, because the fact is that the string of losses this past Election Day was mush more devastating than 2000. The Democratic response to the 2000 Florida debacle was appeasement. Fearful that they would be branded as sore losers, Democrats all over, and on the Hill in particular, imposed a unilateral truce. They chose not to criticize the president or question his legitimacy, (HA!HA!)then stood shoulder to shoulder with him after September 11. The self-pitying, depressive mood lasted two years. Then they got Bushwhacked in the 2002 midterms. Then Howard Dean showed up and expressed the joy of showing one's rage. But Bush cleaned their clocks so decisively last week that is seems Democrats have relinquished the usual pity party thrown after a big election loss. While most are still walking around stunned and a little depressed, they seem ready to fight. We dont have to learn to speak in tongues or join the NRA, said Bruce Reed, president of the Democratic Leadership Council, speaking at a recent election post-mortem for Democrats. We just need to convince a few more people that well keep them safer, that we believe deeply in the basic values of work, responsibility, family, and country, and that, unlike the Republicans, we have a set of ideas to reward and strengthen those values. (Ha!Ha!) Sounds reasonable, but this is not a new task. And success has been painfully elusive. There are other ideas about the road ahead: You can go after religious voters. Democrats do have to become more comfortable speaking out about their faiths, advises Senator Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, the only Democrat to win a Senate race in the South on Election Day. And I say that not as a political ploy: I say that as a challenge to the million of Americans who are people of faith who also happen to be Democrats. Or you can talk to the base. Some say Democrats must embrace their opposition party status and find their own Newt Gingrich to lead their revolution. Says former Clinton political director Doug Sosnik: I remember 1993, when Democrats controlled the federal government. I remember the Republicans: It took the about nine or ten months to figure out what the job was as an opposition party, and then it took them a couple more years to figure out how to operate with that. The truth, however, is that the battles start right now. Democrats know that they are in for a bruising two years on both sides of the Capitol. The GOP swagger is more confident, and, while they may not have the numbers to back up their talk of a mandate, they certainly have the audacity. While it is true that Senate Republicans dont have the 60 votes they would need to completely shut down the Democrats, itll be easier to get five Democrats [they have 55] on your side than it was getting nine, especially when you have six freshman Democrats up for election in 2006 who won with 51 percent of the vote or less in 2000. In the House, Republicans, with 231 members, have enough of a cushion that they could even afford to lose some people on tough votes. These are hard facts. Still, the opposition seems set. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi extended congratulations to the White House after the president was reelected, then quickly accused them of running a con game on the American people. The Republicans did not have an election about jobs, health care, education, environment, national security. They had an election about wedge issues in our country, she said, about a half-hour after Senator John Kerry conceded. They exploited the loveliness of the American people, the devoutness of people of faith for a political end. Democrats are going to ban the Bible if they are elected. Imagine the ridiculousness of that, if it won votes for them. Pelosi and her team plotted strategy this week and announced plans that they will hold the Bush administration accountable. It's a polite way of saying that theyre on the attack. Democratic leadership in the Senate has gone from soft-spoken Daschle to even more soft-spoken Harry Reid, who presents a tougher target for the Republicans. He is pro-life and was just reelected to a fourth term with 61 percent of the vote. To me, one of the most intriguing story lines is that of John Kerry, who returns to the Senate with four more years left in his term. He does not intend to fade away like a Gore or a Dole. This week, he launched an attack on John Ashcroft that sounded an awful lot like the campaign was not over. America lived through four difficult years with an attorney general who became one of the most divisive faces in this administration. With the end of the era of John Ashcroft, the president now has an opportunity to heal those divisions and make good on his promise of renewed bipartisan cooperation. Kerry will obviously have no leadership title either in the Senate or the party. But is there a role for a man who got more votes than any other presidential candidate in history, except the one he lost to? Senator, you have a couple of years to respond! Terence Samuel is the chief congressional correspondent for U.S. News & World Report. His column about politics appears each week in the Prospects online edition.