Congratulations on a stunning victory, Madam Speaker. You have led your party into the majority after 12 difficult, disheartening, and often bitter years in the wilderness. You skillfully caught the wave of public discontent with President Bush and the Republican Congress, and avoided giving your opponents a target to distract voters from the GOPs shortcomings. Your elevation to the speakership is a fitting reward.

But what now? How should you run the House in the last two years of the Bush administration? During the campaign, Republicans offered a parade of horribles if Congress were to change hands: a San Francisco Democrat as speaker, working hand-in-hand with left-wing committee chairmen to raise taxes, stymie the presidents efforts to win the war on terrorism, stifle global trade, abuse their subpoena power to paralyze the executive branch, impeach the president, and take every conceivable step to get even with Republicans for the alleged abuses they inflicted.

A caricature, to be sure, but many less partisan observers expect a Democratic majority to overplay its hand by reverting to a smash-mouth approach to running the House. Democratic leaders, they warn, will seek to limit Republican involvement at every turn, and will allow committee chairs to compensate for years of inadequate oversight by conducting highly aggressive and partisan investigations of past misbehavior.

Your public statements during the campaign, and the contents of your partys election platform, suggest a very different intent on your part. You have said that you would be speaker of the whole House, not just of the Democrats. You have promised a bipartisan administration of the chamber, including regular meetings between leaders of both parties. You have pledged a return to regular order for legislationincluding full and open committee hearings and markups, adequate time for members to read bills and conference reports prior to their consideration on the floor, opportunities for full and fair debate and amendments to legislation, and adherence to the custom of 15 minutes for votes. In addition, you have explicitly ruled out impeachment hearings, and said that committee gavels would be wielded fairly and subpoena orders issued judiciously.

Some now argue that these words were designed for the campaign alone and that you would be a sucker to hamstring the new Democratic majority. We beg to differ. In this case, running the House in accordance with your public pledges makes sense politically. Doing good institutionally is the best way for Democrats to do well as a party.

The public is utterly disgusted with Congress. Corruption, conflicts of interest, bitter partisanship, symbolic rather than substantive actions, message politics, a consuming and transparent interest in maintaining power, a supine response to presidential authority, and the constant reminders that the ends justify any institutional means have drained the first branch of government of its effectiveness and its legitimacy. Aping recent GOP tactics would lead the public to turn on your new majority as they turned yesterday on the Republican majority. Charting a new course in the House offers some hope of improving public attitudes toward Congress, restoring a degree of institutional self-respect, and laying the groundwork for the 2008 presidential and congressional elections.

Presidential vetoes and Senate filibusters will loom large on the horizon as you fashion a legislative agenda. With super-majorities required to pass most legislation in the Senate, there could be limited opportunities to forge agreements between House and Senate, much less to bridge both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. Working productively with the White House would require a major shift in the presidents policy positions and approach to Congress. This seems most unlikely, but you should be prepared to respond positively if it materializes. In its absence, you can advance the modest agenda itemsraising the minimum wage, making student loans more affordable, giving Medicare the power to negotiate lower drug pricesthat you have already laid out, and that naturally attract both Democratic and Republican votes. Your colleagues can conduct fair and forward-looking hearings on the war in Iraq with the cooperation of an increasing number of Republican critics, and perform rigorous oversight in areas like the environment, the Medicare prescription-drug program, homeland security, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Justice Department. And you can, of course, challenge and block presidential initiatives that you and your party colleagues believe are harmful to the countrys interest.

What you can do largely on your own is to take strong and decisive steps to mend the broken branch of government. A strong ethics package that includes a serious enforcement mechanism, with an independent commission and an effective professional staff working alongside the standing committee, is essential. So, too, is serious earmark reform that increases transparency and exposes the egregious abuses of recent years. A pledge to treat the minority party as a legitimate participant in the legislative process, and to return to regular order, is critical to improving the image and operation of Congress. Even more important are subsequent actions consistent with that pledge. These steps will annoy some of your Democratic colleagues, who would prefer to return to business as usualbut with them in charge. You may lose some votes on the floor. You may enrage a share of your liberal base, which wants aggressive action and even a measure of revenge. But you will also be doing the right thingand sharply increasing the chances that you will be speaker for more than a single term.