A lot of the Democrats' act -- such as pretending to ask tough questions of Alberto Gonzalez but also saying that they'll confirm him as Attorney General no matter what -- makes me think they are simply playing their assigned role in some "good cop/bad cop" theater being foisted upon us all.
Here is another possibility. In his book "The Great Unraveling" (I had to buy the UK edition!), New York Times columnist Paul Krugman mentions a book published in 1957 by "a brilliant, iconoclastic young Harvard scholar" by the name of Henry Kissinger. Based on Kissinger's doctoral dissertation, "A World Restored" focused on the reconstruction of Europe after the battle of Waterloo.
Krugman says the first three pages of Kissinger's book "sent chills down my spine, because it explains so well the otherwise baffling process by which the administration has been able to push radical policies through, with remarkably little scrutiny or effective opposition."
Kissinger writes of establishment powers reacting to revolutionary change:
Lulled by a period of stability which had seemed permanent, they find it nearly impossible to take at face value the assertion of the revolutionary power that it means to smash the existing framework. The defenders of the status quo therefore tend to begin by treating the revolutionary power as if its protestations were merely tactical; as if it really accepted the existing legitimacy but overstated its case for bargaining purposes; as if it were motivated by specific grievances to be assuaged by limited concessions. Those who warn against the danger in time are considered alarmists; those who counsel adaptation to circumstance are considered balanced and sane. ... But it is the essence of a revolutionary power that it possesses the courage of its convictions, that it is willing, indeed eager, to push its principles to their ultimate conclusion.Krugman says Kissinger had it exactly right: "People who have been accustomed to stability can't bring themselves to believe what is happening when faced with a revolutionary power, and are therefore ineffective in opposing it."
The Republican party is playing an entirely different game -- while the Democrats abide by an outdated set of rules, driven by some sort of professional courtesy. It doesn't excuse the Democrats' utter lameness, but it does make a lot of sense.