The big news on any day when President Bush delivers a “major address” regarding Iraq is never what the commander-in-chief says. Bush has been on autopilot for so long now that he does not even bother to say anything new — even when he is supposedly laying out a strategy for “victory.”

That was certainly the case Wednesday, when the president treated an audience of cadets at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, to a repeat of every tired cliche he had previously uttered about the war, right down to the clumsy attempt to make a 9-11 link, the ridiculous comparisons with World War II and the don’t-bother-me-with-the-facts pledge that, no matter how bad things get, “America will not run.” What Bush fails to mention, of course that, with the depth of the quagmire into which he has steered the U.S. military, it’s just about impossible to run.

A diginified withdrawal, on the other hand, remains not merely possible but preferable to the Bush approach.

And it is on the withdrawal front that the big news came Wednesday.

After the president spoke, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, announced that she is now backing the call by U.S. Rep. John Murtha, D-Pennsylvania, to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq.

That’s a reversal for Pelosi, the top Democrat in the House, who two weeks ago rejected Murtha’s call for an exit strategy.

Despite the fact that Murtha had been a key supporter of her climb up the Democratic leadership ladder in the House, Pelosi was initially cautious about embracing the decorated Vietnam veteran’s proposal to begin bringing the troops home.

Now, Pelosi says, “We should follow the lead of Congressman John Murtha, who has put forth a plan to make American safer, to make our military stronger and to make Iraq more stable. That is what the American people and our troops deserve.”

That’s big news.

For the first time since the war began, Democrats finally have a congressional leader who says it should end.

But that’s not big enough news.

Pelosi is still holding back when it comes to putting the House Democratic Caucus on record in support of Murtha’s withdrawal proposal.

“I believe that a majority of our caucus clearly supports Mr. Murtha,” says Pelosi. But the minority leader still says “a vote on the war is an individual vote.”

At a point when two thirds of Americans say that the invasion of Iraq was a mistake, and a majority say that the time has come to start rectifying that mistake by bringing troops home, this country needs an opposition party that is in tune with the sentiments of the citizens.

To be sure, a handful of neocon Democrats — led by Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman — will continue to side with the Bush administration and support the war. But, as Pelosi admits, the vast majority of House Democrats are with Murtha. It is time for the caucus as a whole to take a stand that will clarify the debate and force at House Republicans who are increasingly wary of “staying the course” that is being set by a lameduck president.

Two years ago, Nancy Pelosi was elected minority leader in order to turn the House Democrats into an opposition party. She pulled her punches for far too long, doing serious damage not just to her party but to the national discourse — which suffered from the lack of an alternative to the Bush administration’s increasingly absurd pro-war line. Now, Pelosi has begun to speak up. That’s good. But it’s not good enough.

Pelosi is not an individual member. She is the Democratic leader in the House, and she needs to lead.