Jewish World Review Nov. 13, 2002 / 8 Kislev, 5763
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | In the early 1990s, when I was Newt Gingrich's press secretary before the Republicans took over the House, I once complained to the chief congressional correspondent of the New York Times that they never covered our legislative proposals. He explained that because our legislation would never get out of committee, let alone get passed on the floor of the House, it wasn't news. Our political activity might get coverage, he offered.
I didn't like that definition of news then, and I still don't. If the major media wouldn't cover the opposition's legislative proposals between elections, how could the public make a rational choice at the elections? But there is a hard wisdom in his tough advice. The House Democrats should keep that in mind this week as they plan for the next two years.
Unlike the Senate, where lax rules generally permit the minority to at least get a vote on their amendments and bills (and ample time to debate them), when the majority tries to pass their legislation, the House is a tougher place for the opposition party. The iron grip of the Speaker of the House on the Rules committee severely limits the minority's chance to showcase their legislation. The news that the minority party can generate is largely defined by the publicly perceived personality of its leader and the impressions drawn from the way he or she challenges the majority party. Thus, while the majority party gets fairly detailed coverage of its legislation, the media tends to portray to the public only a cartoon version of the minority's bills and leaders. Due to the media's liberal bias, this principle of news coverage plays harder against a Republican minority party. But it still applies broadly to a Democratic minority party.
With this in mind, I think it is likely to be a long and regrettable two years for the House Democrats under the leadership of Nancy Pelosi. Hard as it may be to believe for House Democrats and the couple of million Americans who follow congressional news closely, at this point, probably less than 10 percent of the public has even heard of Mrs. Pelosi. By next spring, about 20-25 percent of the public will be able to identify her as the leader of the House Democrats. That number may go up to about 30-35 percent by November of 2004. The Democratic presidential aspirants starting in the fall of next year largely will eclipse her role as co-leader of the Democrats with Senator Daschle. And unless Saddam Hussein is vastly luckier than I think he will be, coverage of the congressional affairs will be subsumed for 3-6 months by war coverage -- more or less between January and June of next year.
So, the impression she makes in the next few months is likely to stick. The omens are not good. In a country that is naturally right of center (and getting more so), and in which no self-confessed liberal has been elected president since 1964, the overwhelming media characterization of Nancy Pelosi has been: liberal. Both she and her party are already highly defensive of this title.
Mrs. Pelosi's feeble response has been: "When people describe me as a liberal I always say, "Well, I guess you could describe an Italian-American grandmother that way." She could hardly duck the liberal appellation. She has called herself "A Democrat in the New Deal tradition." Sixty years ago, that would make her a liberal. Today, it makes her a reactionary liberal. She has a 100 percent liberal voting record. On her Web site she includes amongst "her favorite photos" pictures of her discussing U.S. policy on Tibet with Richard Gere, her in a Cesar Chavez Day parade and her attending the opening of the San Francisco Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center."
She opposes prayer in school, reducing the marriage penalty and the death tax. She is in favor of implementing the Kyoto Protocols (it lost in a Senate vote 96-0). Not only did she vote against the Iraqi War authorization vote, but a decade ago, she opposed the Persian Gulf War with the following explanation: "While we are greatly concerned about the loss of life from combat in the Persian Gulf War, environmental consequences of the war are as important … " Not too many Americans will share her equal concern for the dislocated dirt and the dead GI in a bomb crater.
Perhaps the most bizarre effort to deflect her extreme liberalism can be heard from her liberal supporters. Last Friday afternoon, within hours of each other, Congressman John Conyers (the left-wing black caucus veteran) and Eleanor Clift (my liberal colleague on "The McLaughlin Group") both said Mrs. Pelosi wasn't a liberal because she was on the Intelligence Committee. That seemed like a non sequitur to me, but apparently, true liberals think that a true liberal couldn't possibly be interested in Intelligence and the national defense (or perhaps they think a true liberal couldn't be trusted with state secrets). If that is what liberals think of themselves, they shouldn't be surprised if about 70 percent of the public share those suspicions.
As I said, it's going to be a long two years for Lefty Pelosi and the San Francisco Democrats.
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