Jewish World Review Nov. 15, 2002/ 10 Kislev, 5763

Wesley Pruden

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From San Francisco,
an answer to prayer | Getting what you pray for is sometimes even riskier than getting what you pay for, as every prudent man knows. But it's difficult to see how Nancy Pelosi will be anything but a godsend in answer to Republican prayer.

In tandem with Tom Daschle, she has marked out a rousing route to oblivion.

It's difficult for some Republicans not to gloat. "I think the image of a San Francisco Democrat is just about as appealing to the nation as it was in 1984, when Walter Mondale won one state," says Peter Cleary, the deputy director of the American Conservative Union.

Like so many of her Democratic colleagues, Mrs. Pelosi looked at the results of the Nov. 5 congressional elections and after careful study and analysis decided that what Americans really want is more of what they sent back to the kitchen (or to the trash can).

Once elected, she made the ritual promises of "inclusiveness" and big-tent (or at least small-tent) diversity, and even appointed as her deputy Rep. John Spratt of South Carolina, described as "a respected moderate." She promised to persuade moderate Democrats and even conservative Democrats, if she can find any, that she won't insist on making Democrats strangers to the rest of America.

But despite the wide margin of her victory in the Democratic caucus, the last-gasp opposition to Mrs. Pelosi speaks volumes about where her colleagues expect her to take the Democrats in the House. Three Democrats made a run at her, first Martin Frost of Texas, then Harold Ford of Tennessee, finally Marcy Kaptur of Ohio. Only Mr. Ford, a black moderate from Memphis who understands very well what the stakes are, stayed around for the drubbing he knew was coming. Mr. Frost and Miss Kaptur bailed out when they read the omens.

Mr. Daschle, who will stick around as the leader of the Democrats in the Senate from a much smaller and much less grand office, sounded yesterday like he thinks there's a run-off election somewhere and he's switching from a strategy of cooperation to the strategy of confrontation so many of his compatriots said he should have employed in the first place. He seemed to take heart in the news that Osama bin Laden may still be alive, and attempted to wrap him around the neck of George W. Bush.

"We can't find bin Laden," said the leader of the rising minority, "and we haven't made any real progress in finding key elements of al Qaeda. They continue to be as great a threat today as they were one and half years ago. So by what measure can we claim to be successful so far?

"It seems he has the ability to move at will. It's been a long time. Nine-eleven was more than a year ago, and we have yet to find him."

True enough, but Mr. Daschle, like the town drunk coming off a bad hangover and trying a little of the hair of the dog that bit him, risks being seen by most Americans as confusing the "lack of success" in the war on terror with his own lack of success in contending with George W. Congressional Republicans were quick to make that point.

"Senator Daschle's claim that the United States has not made progress in the war on terror is nothing less than asinine," says Rep. Mark Foley of Florida. "What have we accomplished? We have taken down at least two of Bin Laden's top lieutenants, broken up terrorist cells in Buffalo, Detroit and Portland, and stopped the sale of Stinger missiles to al Qaeda from a group in Hong Kong. We've completely decimated the Taliban and have the largest terrorism investigation ongoing in our history."

But Tom Daschle is suddenly old stuff. It's Nancy Pelosi, her party's new prom queen and the new face to celebrate that Washington is forever searching for, who will be the symbol of the Democrats as they get ready for '04. She insists that she won't let her liberal convictions obstruct her plans for the resurrection, but she further insists that the Democrats must sharply define their differences with George W. and the Republicans if they make '04 any fun at all.

"I don't have to apologize to anybody for the issues that are important to my district," she told a recent interviewer. "I think I'm a good match."

No doubt. California, which imagines that it is the cutting edge of America, sometimes mistakes its obsessions for what the rest of the country is interested in, and the San Francisco Democrats are the most out of touch of all. San Francisco Democrats take pride in boasting that as Nob Hill goes, so goes Pacific Heights.

"San Francisco voted for Al Gore, and he won the election," state Sen. John Burton boasted to the San Francisco Chronicle the other day. "California voted twice for Gray Davis, voted twice for Bill Clinton. Dianne Feinstein is from San Francisco. Leo McCarthy is from San Francisco. Who are we out of touch with, Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay?"

Not so much with Newt and Tom, as with an angry nation at war. That's the lesson of Nov. 5.

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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