July 15th, 2024


Pelosi clings to power, to her party's detriment

Paul Greenberg

By Paul Greenberg

Published Dec. 15, 2016

Pelosi clings to power, to her party's detriment

After the Republican avalanche of a victory in last month's elections, there was still more good news for the Grand Old Brand New Party courtesy of Nancy Pelosi.

It seems she's eked out a narrow victory over a Democratic insurgency against her stultified leadership of the party in the House, a leadership that has been rusting for the past 14 years. If everything isn't coming up roses for the GOP, at least there are tulips covering the horizon the way daffodils do Wye Mountain every spring.

And all Nancy Pelosi could say about her aforementioned "leadership" was the same thing she's been saying year after year, repeating used-up slogans that would do Hillary Clinton credit, or rather discredit, after that worthy's latest defeat.

Innocent Reader needn't listen too closely to hear the false cheer resounding: "I have a special spring in my step today," said once and future Minority Leader Pelosi, "because this opportunity is a special one, to lead the House Democrats, bring everyone together as we go forward." Alas, defeat has no more improved her credibility than it has her syntax, beginning with that gratuitous "as we go forward." As if there were some other way to get to the future.

Defections from her leadership? "They weren't defections, I had two-thirds of the vote," Nancy Pelosi kept saying as if to convince herself if no one else. Those defectors no more existed than did her alleged leadership. And they were proving remarkably vocal for defectors that didn't exist. Their leader was a courageous congressman from Ohio named Tim Ryan who was saying that Pelosi & Co. were not being responsive to the country's economic needs.

The minority leader's excuse? "I think we're at a time that is well beyond politics. It's about the character of America." But when have American elections not been? Beyond the various voting blocs that exist mainly in pollsters' post hoc ergo propter hoc analysis, whether the farm vote, urban vote or young or old vote, there has always been an all-American, red-white-and-blue vote.

For all his boorishness, Donald Trump understood as much and kept appealing to that vote even as the politically sophisticated were writing him off month after month, surprising primary after surprising primary. A then young senator from Illinois named Barack Obama once understood all this, which is why he put an old warhorse like Hillary Clinton in the shade when they battled it out for their party's presidential nomination in 2008.

The conclusion is inescapable for anyone who's been listening, not just talking: Political novices of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your delusions! One version or more of that sound counsel was repeated again and again by wiser heads. Congressman Beto O'Rourke, a Democrat from Texas, noted that Nancy Pelosi had been obliged to take all the opposition against her so-called leadership seriously by strewing olive branches all around to calm those nonexistent defectors. The defectors were particularly riled by her management or lack of it at the Democratic National Campaign Committee, which took sides in the party's primaries early and often.

Why did Nancy Pelosi throw her critics a bone or two when she had to? "That's partly a response to the competition in the caucus for votes," says Beto O'Rourke, "and that's a healthy thing." If the party still doesn't believe in wide-open economic competition under the rule of law, it may finally have seen the light where political competition is concerned, for it had little choice after the result of last month's elections. Nancy Pelosi had foreseen a gain of more than 20 seats for her party instead of the six it had to settle for, small potatoes indeed.

To quote Congressman Ruben Gallego, Democrat of Arizona: "We should have been recruiting earlier, we should have better targeting. I think our messaging was off. I think we are focused so much still on TV instead of looking at new methods of communications and/or even old methods of communication -- canvassing and digital buys." Even while criticizing the campaign bureaucracy, he can't seem to help sounding like a bureaucrat, God bless him.

A corporal in the ever-faithful Marines (Semper Fi!), he was critical of DNCC staffers who thought only of pleasing Ms. Pelosi instead of challenging her to do better than just serving herself, calling the staffers' work "bureaucratic in nature." Far-seeing Democrats with their party's future at stake would have liked to see her position and positions challenged rather than just rubber-stamped. Their motto could have been Barry Goldwater's in 1964: A choice, not an echo. He may have lost the election that year even while winning the nation's heart. As did Ronald Reagan, who was just setting the stage for his grand comeback of comebacks.

"I'm very concerned that we just signed the Democratic Party's death certificate," says Congressman Kurt Schrader of Oregon. The ink hasn't dried yet, but the many lessons of this campaign, great and small, may prove indelible.

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Paul Greenberg is the Pulitzer-winning editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.