Return with us now to those fabled days of yesteryear when Democrats were economic populists and fighting champions of the people against power.

Recall with us the way Democrats fought against conventional wisdom and entrenchment.

Remember how Democrats demanded protection of civil liberties and civil rights.

Summon up memories of the direct language Democrats once used.

Franklin Roosevelt could warn against businesspeople who sought to consolidate “into their own hands an almost complete control over other people’s property, other people’s money, other people’s labor, other people’s lives.”

Harry Truman, offended by criticism of his daughter’s singing, could write to a critic, “Some day I hope to meet you. When that happens you’ll need a new nose, a lot of beefsteak for black eyes, and perhaps a supporter below!”

John Kennedy could accuse steel executives who conspired to raise prices, “whose pursuit of private power and profit exceeds their sense of public responsibility,” of showing “such utter contempt for the interests of 185 million Americans.”

Robert Kennedy, in speaking against an unnecessary war, could denounce his own government for a “web of repression” against dissenters.

Read now of what the Washington Post calls the sound of silence—the reaction of Democrats in the United States Senate when one of their colleagues introduced a resolution not—as so many have suggested—to impeach George Bush but merely to censure him for breaking the law and trying to cover it up:

“Democratic senators, filing in for their weekly caucus lunch yesterday, looked as if they’d seen a ghost.

“'I haven’t read it,’ demurred Barack Obama (Ill.).

“'I just don’t have enough information,’ protested Ben Nelson (Neb.). ‘I really can’t right now,’ John Kerry (Mass.) said as he hurried past a knot of reporters—an excuse that fell apart when Kerry was forced into an awkward wait as Capitol Police stopped an aide.

“Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) brushed past the press pack, shaking her head and waving her hand over her shoulder. When an errant food cart blocked her entrance to the meeting room, she tried to hide from reporters behind the 4-foot-11 Barbara Mikulski (Md.).”

If Clinton runs for president, it may be well to keep in mind, when considering her claim to leadership, the image of her cowering behind the senator from Maryland.

There is a difference between the political courage needed in the hallways of decision making and the physical courage needed on the field of battle. Politics doesn’t require the same level of grit and nerve as war. That’s why it’s so disappointing to see that the Democrats can’t even muster the political spirit to call this weak and supercilious president to account. It is particularly discouraging to see a genuine war hero like Kerry cowering before a politically unpleasant task.

Kerry, Clinton and most other Democrats in the Senate voted for war against Iraq. It’s unfortunate that they are matching the courage of the U.S. soldiers they sent into battle only with their own cowardice in Congress. It’s not just George Bush who needs censuring.