The Rejection of Nancy Pelosi, And The Rusty The Democratic Machine
by nycweboy1, Thu Nov 04, 2010 at 11:47:24 AM EDT
One scene that tended to sum up the election Tuesday evening to me (and, apparently, to the New York Times, which ran a picture from it), was Nancy Pelosi's decision to be in Washington at DNC headquarters for the election results. Largely alone - since most Representatives were in their districts, many losing - she seemed, as she often does, slightly stiff and slightly off (The NYT photo of her, alone and looking vaguely dissatisfied, did seem to put 1000 words on the night's results into a single image). And, by the end of the night, no one really was hanging around to see how that party turned out.
Reaction to Tuesday's losses among Congressional Democrats has been a mixture of confusion, resignation, and, naturally, anger. Blame is naturally starting to be assigned. But already, as has so often happened within the left, speaking the name Nancy Pelosi, and actually pointing out that where we are is a disastrous consequence of her failures as a party leader seems to be off the table.
Yet the results are painfully clear and the lesson is incredibly direct: no one person stands as the source of this year's losses, and the failure to reverse a losing trend as much as the central role Nancy Pelosi played as Speaker of the House and leader of the House delegation.
Much of this, it should also be said, is a failure of her own making, compounded by a fuzzy misreading of her, perpetuated within the Party and by the press. Pelosi is a generally poor communicator who has rarely given one on one interviews and tends, often to seem resistant to questions about her own views or motives. That's led to a surprisingly contradictory presence for her: she was. at once, one of the most visible Speakers - given her historic role as the first woman in the job - and yet often distant or unseen.
I remain convinced that a lot of these problems were built in, consequences of her history, which, as I said months ago, is rarely examined or discussed. Pelosi, the daughter of Baltimore mayor Mike D'Alessandro, was a lifelong product of the old Democratic ethnic machine. She served, during years where she mainly concentrated on being a wife and mother to a successful banker in San Francisco, on the local Democratic committee as a fundraiser and active party member. She had never run for elective office when Sala Burton, then serving as her husband's replacement as the longtime representative of SF proper, handpicked Pelosi as her replacement (Burton shortly died of cancer afterwards). Pelosi has subsequently won the district by enormous margins at every outing, and faced essentially no real opposition for her seat. That's allowed her, over time, to amass enormous contributions she could then pass on to other candidates, and gradually use her strengths as a fundraiser to consolidate her role as a power within the party.
It's worth reiterating this, partly because so many people don't, and also because it matters tremendously to what's unfolded since: Pelosi's power comes from her role as a fundraiser and her organizing principle is not so much about specific ideologies as it is about loyalty and control. In fact, one way of looking at this year's results is that, as with Barack Obama, Pelosi has in fact never lost in a meaningful way at anything until Tuesday of this week. Her successes consolidating the Democratic House coalition since becoming Minority Leader only grew: she used her clout (and the strategizing, it should be noted, of key players like Rahm Emanuel) to drive the Democratic victories of 2006 and 2008.
Even now, Pelosi appears to be hedging on whether or not she should be forced out of her role as House leader for the Party, and whether she should, in deference to the changes that have occurred, even give up her seat. She's probably right that no one, really, can push her out of representing her district: that seat is probably is only slightly less likely than Charlie Rangel's to guarantee a seat for life.
But it's painfully obvious that the failures of this year's election cycle stem, mainly from her sense of command and control. Nearly all of the House members who lost did so because they could be tied to the votes they had made in relative lockstep with the agenda she, and her team, pushed: from Cap and Trade in the Environmental bill, to the slip shod array of compromises that made the Financial Reform bill both necessary and embarrassing at once... to the obvious behemoth of the healthcare bill.
All of these bills, and much of the House's much ballyhooed legislative agenda - remember all the crowing about "all the bills the House has passed" that languished in the Senate? - were marked by what was both the the success and failure of Pelosi's leadership: clearly, they had been created by liberals to benefit lefty constituencies most. But the bills, especially the big signature efforts, were marked by excessive horse trading, bad compromises, and a painfully forced process to get the votes for passage. As many progressives have noted, on issue after issue, and bill after bill, Palosi crafted "compromises" that gave away key pieces of progressive action for little more than the price of a vote or two. In nearly every case, the calculations are obvious; the passage is what matters, by any means necessary, to have a "sale-able" product that will assure further Democratic gains at election time.
Central to the failure of the Democrats in the short term has been just this kind of "strategery" over good sense: despite ever louder calls from her own side - never mind the rising Tea Party anger of opposition - Pelosi's emphasis on machine-driven, party loyalist voting for loyalty's sake created the bad compromises and furthered the breakdown of good governmental processes in Washington. It's fair, of course, to point out that it's likely that many major bills - especially healthcare might never have passed without Pelosi's firm grip. It's even fairer to suggest, I suspect, that it's hard to imagine things going better some other way. But still: the net result is that Democratic voters felt betrayed and conservative voters felt re-energized. So how, exactly, did pursuing a strategy like Pelosi's help Democrats achieve an agenda or long term success of progressive goals?
Pelosiu's fealty to tired old machine politics. amd to seniority over good sense - as I said last time, it's Pelosi who managed to stack the Committee Chairs with aging, longterm Congressmen (yes, almost all men) who represent some 15 of the 20 longest serving members (even after the elections) - ought to be rejected, finally, and a new team needs to emerge. The idea of new blood and new ideas was anethema, most of all, to Pelosi herself. It's not how she did business, and it's not how she defined success. And the result, really, speaks for itself: promises of "transparency" and high ethical standards gave way to a very traditional, conventional, world of backrtoom deals, last minute switches, and sleazy connections between leaders and lobbyists. Sure, they weren't (always) the same lousy lobbyists the right uses... but Barney Frank's ties to banks are no more seemly than some senior Republican's. And that's just for starters... and ends with Charlie Rangel.
It's long past the time that Democrats, internally, should have rejected what Pelosi represents, and the machine she's continued to prop up in so may urban strongholds. The need for new bllod, the need to reach out to new communities, and the need to reassert the primacy of the work Democrats do for people in need - working people below the median income line, immigrants, the poor, the disabled and on and on - has never been clearer. It's long past time to let Nancy Pelosi go. And if someone doesn't say it loudly, clearly, and very soon... there we'll be, stuck with her and all she represents. We can do better... and it's past the time we should.
Originally posted at my blog www.nycweboy.com
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