Anticipation, expectation, hope and maybe even a little prospect of change is the order of the day. Disappointment will follow soon enough. Many's the heart that will be broken, after the gall and venom of debate, insult, argument and eventually even a little compromise. It's how Congress is supposed to work. The men who designed it wore no lace on their drawers.
The Republican leaders, beginning with Mitch McConnell in the Senate and John Boehner in the House, are determined to show everybody that "the Republicans are not as bad as you think," that the leaders of the conservatives are nice, housebroken and not as bad as the newspapers and purveyors of television palaver make them out to be.
Both the new majority leader in the Senate and the speaker of the House sprinkle their conversations with the latest clichés of the marketing men promises of "co-operation going forward" and to "eliminate dysfunction." If you repeat the clichés often enough you can make yourself look "forward-looking" and not as "dysfunctional" as the other guy.
The risk for the Republicans is that the Democrats, with their allies in the media, will define "co-operation going forward" as merely being more like Democrats. Anything else would look like being the dreaded "dysfunctional." The strategy usually works.
The contrived controversy over whether the new Republican whip, Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, spoke to a white-supremacist organization 12 years ago is the kind of trap successfully laid in the past by Democrats. The two-card Monte men at the county fair never have it as good as Democrats usually do in Congress.
It's not at all clear that Mr. Scalise actually spoke to, or even attended, a meeting of the European-American Unity and Rights Organization, which might be mistaken for a high-sounding sister organization of the League of Women Voters, but is actually a front dreamed up by David Duke, the onetime grand wizard of one of the remaining Ku Klux Klans whose memberships are largely made up of undercover FBI men.
When a blogger in Louisiana recycled the rumors that Mr. Scalise, at the time a mere state senator, had made a speech to the group in 2002 it exploded like a ladyfinger firecracker in The Washington Post, treated as the arriving doom of the third apocalypse. David Duke! Ku Klux Klan! Republicans! It was a story of evil too good to investigate whether it was actually true, or to find someone who remembered what the state senator said.
John Boehner read the papers, too, and soon Mr. Scalise was under pressure to apologize, and at once. There would be time later to see what, if anything, he had done to apologize for. Apology first, crime later. In the old days the order was reversed.
Then Slate, the reliably liberal online magazine that no one has ever accused of carrying water to put out Republican fires, found two people who remembered actually attending the 2002 meeting. They confirmed what the organizer of the European-American Unity meeting had said, that Mr. Scalise was not there.
The organizer, one Kenny Knight, had managed David Duke's campaign for governor in 1991 when he lost in a runoff to the incumbent governor. He was a neighbor of Mr. Scalise, and newly elected to the state legislature. He booked a meeting room in a suburban inn and scheduled a session of the European-American conference for 1 p.m. He told the Jefferson Heights Civic Association it could use the meeting room in the morning and invited Mr. Scalise, a sheriff's deputy and a Red Cross representative to speak to that group.
Mr. Scalise is remembered as having talked about legislation he would introduce in the upcoming session of the legislature. The sheriff's deputy talked about a neighborhood crime-watch program and the Red Cross representative demonstrated the latest techniques to revive drowning victims. Riveting stuff, to be sure, but apparently nobody wore a sheet or burned a cross.
If Mr. Scalise had had a better memory, he wouldn't have apologized for something he never did, but John Boehner would have been deprived of suborning witless apology. This can be a learning experience, and the Republicans will need it over the next two years. The Democrats and their allies are determined to run the show on Capitol Hill, and they will run over anyone who lets them to it. That's the way of the Washington world.