*Checks and balances

CHECKS AND BALANCES…. Maureen Dowd is not usually my cup of tea, but I think she’s right to point out the hilarity of Republicans fretting about “checks and balances.”

How quaint. The Republicans are concerned about checks and balances.

The specter of Specter helping the president have his way with Congress has actually made conservatives remember why they respected the Constitution in the first place. Senator Mitch McConnell, the leader of the shrinking Republican minority, fretted that there was a “threat to the country” and wondered if people would want the majority to rule “without a check or a balance.”

Senator John Thune worried that Democrats would run “roughshod” and argued that Americans wanted checks and balances. Senator Judd Gregg mourned that “there’s no checks and balances on this massive expansion on the size of government.”

Bill Kristol, the editor of The Weekly Standard, tried to put the best face on it, noting, “This will make it easier for G.O.P. candidates in 2010 to ask to be elected to help restore some checks and balances in Washington.”

This is quite touching, given that the start of the 21st century will be remembered as the harrowing era when an arrogant Republican administration did its best to undermine checks and balances. (Maybe when your reign begins with Bush v. Gore, a Supreme heist that kissed off checks and balances, you feel no need to follow the founding fathers’ lead.)

Indeed, it’s been quite a transformation for congressional Republicans, hasn’t it? The same GOP lawmakers used to enthusiastically embrace phrases like “majority rule” and “up-or-down votes.” Those who would dare stand in the way of measures endorsed by the president and congressional majorities were “obstructionists” and shameless “partisans.” The reconciliation process was deemed a reasonable and judicious use of Senate procedures.

They rejected the very idea of administrative oversight. They saw little value in having a congressional minority even being allowed to offer amendments to legislation.

And as Dowd notes, “checks and balances” was an antiquated concept, too often touted by those with a pre-9/11 mindset. When Congress and the White House were led by members of the same party, they said, a rubber-stamp dynamic was to be expected.

The turnaround has been as fast as it is impressive.

For what it’s worth, the “checks and balances” talk is largely misguided. For one thing, it’s unlikely to connect with voters. The message, in effect, is, “Support the GOP to help promote gridlock on popular policy initiatives.” Not exactly a winning slogan.”

For another, Democrats are still Democrats. As the president reminded the press corps the other night, “I’ve got Democrats who don’t agree with me on everything.”