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Will Mr. Smith go back to Washington? 

Senate Democrats put on what they called a “progressive media summit” last week on Capitol Hill. It was all left-wing bloggers, left-wing radio talk show hosts and left-wing magazine writers.

That was, except for one guy — that would be I — who kept drawing his coffee mug closer to his name tag whenever senators or these newfangled partisan journalists commenced railing against corrupting corporate ownership of mainstream newspapers.

The participants applauded senators when they liked what they said, which is not the way traditional journalists behave.

One line of questioning centered on whether President Bush could be impeached retroactively and whether there would be any point to impeaching him unless you simultaneously impeached Dick Cheney.

U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln, senior Democratic senator from my home state of Arkansas, had put in my name for invitation. While I appreciated it, she obviously did not know what a “progressive” media person was.

I told her at the reception afterward that, for the first time in my life, I'd been the most conservative person in the room.

“How'd it feel?” she asked playfully. I suspect she'd had the same experience.

This “summit” itself, which had been held before but was bigger than ever, was instructive and significant in two ways.

First, it revealed the ever-growing prominence of this new partisan punditry. But that observation is “so 2002,” as someone said. The other was that it indicated the Democrats' determination to compete in this arena with Republicans, who have long enjoyed and nurtured their own echo chamber, particularly in talk radio.

One after the other, Democratic senators dropped by to thank these participants for getting the message out, even crediting them with key roles in the Democratic sweep of 2006.

There was one powerful theme underlying everything that was said. It was that not much can possibly get done this year, owing to the election distraction and Republican abuse of the filibuster. And it was that everything is going to change for the better next year.

That's because, we were told, it looks as if the Democrats will take the presidency in November and pick up four or five seats in the Senate. Then we'll see universal health insurance, new investments in a post-carbon energy culture, military withdrawal from Iraq, more responsible fiscal policy and stouter regulation of business and high finance so that something like the sub-prime mortgage crisis will be much less likely to happen.

No one was saying anything about debilitating effects of the feuding between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and that it appears the Republicans, in spite of themselves, will nominate, in John McCain, their strongest general election prospect.

The only flirtation with what an old-fashioned mainstream newspaperman saw as news was this:

Democratic senators praised their leader, Harry Reid, for availing himself of Senate rules to move by unanimous consent and act responsibly to get less-controversial legislation passed even while Republicans were filibustering everything that they most strenuously opposed.

But they said that Reid could, if he chose, simply enforce the traditional filibuster rules and force Republicans actually to filibuster. That would mean staying up all night to talk, a la Jimmy Stewart in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” Some said they'd encouraged Reid to pick a good issue or two for that this year, and they predicted he would oblige them.

More than one Democratic senator seemed titillated at the prospect of Republicans talking at 3 a.m. on C-SPAN about why we shouldn't expand federally subsidized health insurance for children.

Being pessimistic, I figure Republicans would manage to turn it around on Democrats. Or maybe it would come down to a war of the echo chambers.

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