Two of the most commonly made mistakes must surely be "not leaving well enough alone" and "pushing too far." Sometimes, in partisan or ideological fervor, people just can't help themselves.
For Democrats, having swept Republicans out of their congressional majorities in 2006 and out of the White House in 2008, one might think they would be content with focusing on the formidable policy challenges facing them. But sometimes defeating adversaries doesn't seem to be sufficient. Some feel the need to humiliate and then prosecute them, criminalizing the political process.
Republicans seem to be delighted with how much Democrats, and Pelosi, are keeping the issue in the headlines.
Among the challenges that face our country, Democrats could be focusing on bringing fundamental change to our nation's health care system and moving the country toward energy self-sufficiency.
Social Security and retirement issues also need to be addressed, as well as the myriad budget and deficit challenges. Let's just say that Democrats have more to tackle than any time since the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
It would seem that focusing on the nation's great policy challenges would occupy them and there would not be time left to grind their opponents into the ground. It's questionable whether Democrats will have enough time to deal with these lofty objectives, and it's a wonder that some of them choose to waste time and political capital that could be used pursuing policy objectives.
For many Democrats, one of the more objectionable, even offensive, Bush administration policies was the use of enhanced interrogation techniques such as waterboarding. Experts on interrogation methods are split over the effectiveness of such measures.
Those from the FBI tend to think that they are not effective, that prisoners are willing to say anything, true or not, to stop such procedures.
Those from the intelligence community tend to think that the techniques actually work. Be that as it may, the practices have stopped and have been banned. The intelligence community will be largely committed to abiding by the same standards as the U.S. military.
Many on the left seemed to believe that, with the unseemly practices having been exposed, they needed to get a pound of flesh from the perpetrators, both those that actually conducted the practices and those behind creating the policies that allowed for them. For most people, the documents describing the practices and the memory of Abu Ghraib were quite vivid enough to give us a general idea of what happened, and why it had been stopped. Many liberals wanted more, including the formation of truth commissions, to settle old scores.
While most Americans accept the idea that the militias and renegade bands of other countries are likely to treat U.S. prisoners worse than we would treat those whom we capture, these practices still offer a green light to others to treat our military even worse. It lowers the ethical and moral bar, which is why many former military leaders, ranging from former Secretary of State Colin Powell to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who was a prisoner of war, oppose many of these techniques.
However, the insistence by liberals to keep pushing the issue has left one of their own exposed. Rather than dropping the issue when President Obama took office, they pushed it forward.
Now, the focus is on what Democratic congressional leaders knew and when they knew it. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., one of the more powerful speakers in modern history, is now weakened and on the defensive because she and others couldn't leave well enough alone.
Republicans seem to be delighted with how much Democrats, and Pelosi, are keeping the issue in the headlines. Glen Bolger and Jim Hobart from the Republican polling firm of Public Opinion Strategies have made hay of it, posting a piece on their firm's Web site that link it to the speaker's public image, which they obviously have an interest in poking holes in.
Their numbers suggest she could become a unifying point for the GOP, a foil that Republicans desperately need given the popularity of Obama. Pelosi would be well advised to emphasize her role as speaker of the entire House while lowering her partisan profile and letting others take on some of the more polarizing jobs. Democrats turned former Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., into a caricature of partisan folly, and Republicans now seem determined to do the same to Pelosi.
Whether liberals learn their lesson from this or not is debatable. Many are just like a dog with a bone and will not let go, no matter what.
Settling old scores to some of these folks seems more important than bringing about healthcare reform or a revamped climate change and energy policy. On matters like these, Democrats might be better advised to take their cues from the White House than from liberal bloggers appealing to their worst instincts.