Large problems and small bedevil the Democrats. They are fairly resigned to the idea that the 1992 presidential election was decided during Operation Desert Storm, and they realize they may not get the sand out of their shoes until Thanksgiving, if then.
That's the biggest problem, of course, particularly for members who voted against the president when he asked their permission to go to war. House GOP Whip Newt Gingrich (Ga.) and Republican Senate campaign chairman Phil Gramm (Tex.) will not let them forget it for so much as a split second.
They can hardly pick up a newspaper without having some gulf theologian urge them to repent, to confess error, to do homage to those who most get on their nerves, the pro-war voters. They hear their new leaders should be those who often support the president, Rep. Les Aspin (Wis.), Rep. Stephen J. Solarz (N.Y.) and Sen. Charles S. Robb (Va.).
Robb is causing consternation in the Senate Democratic Caucus these days. Some Democrats complain they don't know whose side he is on. It comes up a lot because he is chairman of the Democratic Senate campaign committee. Last Sunday he appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press" with Gramm, his opposite number, and when invited to defend colleagues who had voted against the president, said, in effect, that he had told them not to do it.
He is not echoing the "vote of conscience" argument that his beleaguered brethren, especially from the South, are making. Instead, he told the audience that, "I said the politics are going to hurt you on this one, and I didn't get very many takers."
It was the Democrats' luck that the broadcast coincided with Robb's exit from the Budget Committee. Chairman Jim Sasser (D-Tenn.) is not regarded as a vindictive person and is believed when he says it was simply done to shrink the size of the panel. But Robb complains that he is being punished for budgetary disagreements with Sasser.
"Absolute nonsense," says Sasser. "He was the last one on the committee."
It's a spat that might not make it out of the cloakroom, except for one thing: on the same "Meet the Press" broadcast, Robb indicated that his dismissal might have had something to do with his having split with the Democratic majority over the gulf.
He was asked if he thought he was being punished for his vote. "I don't really want to get into that," he replied. "There's more there than meets the eye."
The Democrats have pretended not to notice, but Gingrich promises that he and Gramm will make a federal case of it.
"Here they have a senator who appeals to conservatives and ethnics, and they treat him this way," Gingrich fumes. "You can be sure that we will be on it."
Democrats in Congress feel they can weather this as well as other squalls that are bound to blow up. They believe that Congress will survive. If no Democrat on the scene can compete with George Bush as commander in chief, they trust that the war fever eventually will subside, and that their constituents will think of reasons why they like their members of Congress apart from war votes.
They are trusting that Bush will not harness the great wave of euphoria that is enveloping the country in pride and optimism for any sweeping domestic initiatives. Crime and transportation, the two subjects he mentioned in his Roman-style triumph before a joint session of Congress, are not the kind that galvanize voters and cause them to leave the party of their fathers.
But if Bush were to seize health care, then the Republican dream of a Republican Congress could become a reality.
The Democrats know they should do something about America's horrendous health problems, but they have been unable to organize their resources, and they are not in the habit of giving orders to the two House superpowers who would be involved, Chairmen Dan Rostenkowski (Ill.) of Ways and Means and John D. Dingell (Mich.) of Energy and Commerce.
Democrats tell themselves that Bush will not move on health, that the costs are prohibitive, that he would not take on the small businesses who employ many of the 33 million uninsured Americans who would have to be covered for comprehensive reform.
But Gingrich, in a speech to National Association of Manufacturers, discussed the subject with great vigor and made the sure-fire "Desert Storm" comparison. We have high-tech equipment in medicine too, he said, but no high-tech process for delivery, with the result that bureaucrats rather than health experts make medical decisions.
Gingrich is the operating head of the Republican Party these days, and if he pushes his party into taking up health care, Democrats may be looking at ruin far worse than was wrought on the road from Kuwait to Baghdad.