Move Along, Part 2: There Really Is A Case For Replacing Nancy Pelosi. And Not With Steny Hoyer.

Yesterday, I decided to lob a grenade into the discussion of What Democrats Should Do Now, mostly because I am genuinely alarmed at the prospect that Nancy Pelosi, having presided over one of the worst electoral reversals for Democrats ever, will be rewarded with the House Minority Leadership role. Again. What's surprising to me is both that there's been a surprising amount of dead silence from many lefty blogs since the election (losing, it has to be admitted, will do that to ya), along with a surprising number - to me, anyway - of people who seem determined to accept any and every sloppy excuse for having Pelosi continue to exercise her considerable power virtually unchecked.

Here, then, are still more ways to make the case that someone other than Nancy Pelosi whould be leading the House Democrats. And, while we're at it, let's look at why the acsension of Steny Hoyer would be as bad, or worse.

  1. We shouldn't reward failure. Even if one buys the "she was demonized" or "the failures of the past two years have to do with the Senate" (both of which, really, deserve a full discussion, with considerable rebuttal), let's be clear: the House Democrats offered as little, or less, than the Republicans who ran against them. If Republicans failed to nationalize this election around a positive agenda, Democrats didn't even try; long before the election was in earnest, Democrats ran immediately to painting the GOP as extreme, scary, and not to be trusted. That may be true - I think it's a bit broad brush, however accurate in specific cases - but that campaign was no substitute for the fact that the Democratic establishment had nothing to offer to deal with the current hard times. Foreclosures? Anyone? How about job creation? Tax policy? Moreover, most Democrats, even Pelosi, tended to run away from their "accomplishments" of the past legislative session rather than run on them, a tacit admission that something, really, hadn't worked. It's one thing for some liberals to insist, patronizingly, that voters "just didn't get it" or "our accomplishments weren't explained well". It's another for Pelosi to blame, continually and consistently, that Republicans have drowned out the good news about the work of House Democrats. There was a lot o explaining... and still people were not happy with what Democrats have done. An unpopular agenda, enormous election losses... just how many mess-ups is one person entitled to before their leadership gets called into question?
  2. No one person is irreplaceable. Nancy Pelosi is 70. She has been in the House for more than 20 years. How much longer, really, can this go on (even if she is in a House seat for life)? Thanks to John Kennedy and Franklin Roosevelt, Democrats are often way to enamored of the "great person" theory of political leadership (odd, since, much of that "great man" theory is used to justify white male patriarchy, but never mind)., wich tends to encourage stasis over experimentation. Sticking with Pelosi because she can "lead us back to a majority" is just short-sighted. In 4-6 years, she'll be in her mid-seventies, and the pressures to bring in some fresh voices will only be more acute. Why wait?
  3. Change is good, and long overdue. Say what you will about the incoming Republican leadership team, but face this: it's a young team, full of fresh faces. The leadership roles of people like Eric Cantor and Paul Ryan are almost unthinkable within the current Democratic leadership structure, with people whose first elections to the House go back to the Nixon Administration, and beyond. For a party that prides itself on being more open to new ideas and experimentation, our party's leadership in Congress is anything but. We expect to attract younger voters, and more voters of color... yet our leadership is overwhelmingly white, male, and not particularly representative of the ideas or energy of the youth of today... or even, say, folks in their thirties. This is not a case against age or experience... but there is a point where "age and experience" are simply excuses to perpetuate a status quo, not an indication of excellence. This, too, is why Steny Hoyer - himself a veteran of some 20+years - is no real solution as the next Minority Leader. I love the Maryland delegation as much as the next former Marylander, but Hoyer is a prime example of that state's equally tired machine politics, and ought to be, at best, temporary step towards newer, fresher faces, voices, and ideas.
  4. This isn't about "Blue Dogs" or "Who is more liberal". The last four years of majority control have laid bare familiar tensions within the Party, with little real resolution (or productive discussion, for that matter). Much is being made of the fact that the majority of losses were among more conservative "Blue Dog" Democrats, leaving a more liberal minority; perhaps... but the broader lesson is that the election swept out many recent arrivals to the House, from the classes of 2006 and 2008, leaving behind familiar veterans in especially safe seats. They are not, as a group, necessarily more "liberal" or "progressive" - indeed, it's under the leadership of some of these most senior members that "progressive" ideas and new approaches to old problems have been ignored or traded away.  If we don't encourage some sense of reordering within the House leadership, giving a chance and a voice to newer faces, progressive activists will really be no closer to achieving long term goals. And the alternative - some sort of ideological purification like the conservatives have exerted on the GOP - is just not doable.
  5. Losing means it's just time to move on. Symbolically, there's just no indication that anyone learned anything in keeping Pelosi as House Democratic leader. Liberals and progressives and all Democrats need to realize and accept the lessons of this election: We lost. This was a serious repudiation of our work and our ideas, and we need to accept the loss, make changes and grow in a new direction. For four years, Republicans have flailed about, refusing to accept loss after loss after loss after rejection by the national electorate. Now, riding the tails of anger and resentment, they have cobbled together familiar elements of their old coalition which will liely split at the seams the minute they begin to attempt to exercise power in any direction. Their failure is built into the elements of their victory. But Democrats will squander the opportunity to make a fresh case for renewed majorities in 2012 and beyond presenting the same, familiar face and exercise power embodied in the leadership of Nancy Pelosi. New leadership, different voices, fresh ideas... these are the ways to return from loss. And the best place to start is with someone other than  Nancy Pelosi - or other senior members of her leadership team -leading the House Democrats.

Criticizing Nancy Pelosi, her leadership, or her record, is not automatically anti-woman or antifeminist; it's unfortunate that reasonable criticisms of Pelosi, irrespective of the historic position she's held as the first woman in her role, have been tangled up in harsh, unnecessary and ugly sentiments about her, especially from the right. It is, indeed, a remarkable, historic and valuable achievement that Nanacy Pelosi made, rising to the Speaker's role. We should honor her service, thank her for all the hard work, and appreciate the achievements she made through her leadership. But that period is over, and this last election shows that new leadership is warranted and changes need to be made. It's time. Let's move along.

Originally posted at my blog


The Rejection of Nancy Pelosi, And The Rusty The Democratic Machine

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


What Changed, What Didn't, And Why It's Over

I have been a Hillary Clinton supporter, and a vocal one, for quite a while (I was a Hillary Clinton supporter, some said, before I even knew I was). I didn't write the words "it's over" last night with any joy, or any ease.  I wrote them because that's what I've learned supporting Hillary Clinton this year - politics is about the practical, clear-eyed look at things as they really are, not as we might like them to be.

As a party, we need to understand what happened, and why last night was the effective end of the campaign for Hillary Clinton. There are, naturally, details to work out, plans to be made, graceful exits to be set up. But last night, things changed; just not, necessarily the things some people think changed.

There's more...

McCain's Healthcare Plan: More Of The Same, Boring Stuff

I had a chance this morning to catch part of John McCain's speech in Tampa, while getting the family car checked out, and posted this originally on my blog while watching. I've written a lot about health care since I began blogging, partly because I worked for a time in medical advertising, and partly because of the experience I had growing up with my Mom, a healthcare educator with considerable depth of knowledge in the field. I encourage anyone looking to find out more about the proposal to click on the various links, which provide a wealth of additional detail and data.

McCain has clearly learned something about the rhetoric of the healthcare debate; to his credit he did a compelling job laying out the problem - he was more frank than I've seen Republicans be about admitting that the uninsured are a real and significant problem (the right has wasted a lot of energy disputing the notions of 47 million uninsured, trying to blame the lion's share on illegal immigration and temporary unemployment, to no avail). He also emphasized - just as rightly - the challenges of rising costs and access to healthcare, and how insurance serves as the way into the system, which hurts people without coverage.

Which is what makes his proposed "solution" so ludicrous.

I was actually worried, as he laid out the problem, that McCain had actually had a "come to Jesus" moment during his time off and moderated his initial proposal, made months ago. I needn't have worried: McCain is still pushing the notion of some combination of increased health savings accounts and tax credits to individuals ($2,500 to individuals, $5,000 to families) as a means to reduce costs of insurance. This, he says, will stimulate such a level of increased competition for coverage, that insurance costs will drop, and everyone, like magic, will be insured.


Let's just steamroll through this, shall we? Here's what's wrong with the proposal:

There's more...

The Things We Can't Talk About, When We Do Talk About Race, And Barack Obama

Although this is my first entry at MyDD, I have been blogging for about a year and a half on my own; the election, and writing about it, has helped attract readers, and bolster my confidence as a writer, things for which I am grateful. It's a little odd to me that I would choose a dicey subject like our racial divides as a jumping off point, but it's something I care about (and have written about, as the links will show), and I think someone has to try.  My intent, of course, is not to offend, but to invite a dialogue, and a way to get into a difficult subject. Whether it succeeds or not... is up to you.

It doesn't surprise me that one outcome of this week's primary results is that the tensions of talking about the dynamics of this election season have gotten rougher; a lot of Obama supporters - which could easily be described as "the media" - have had to readjust to the fact that Clinton's win in PA was solid, as good as her supporters expected, if not better, and made it clear that things we'd been saying were turning out to be true. And that, in turn, has led to some expected hand-wringing about the kind of divide the results exposed.

Put another, less PC way... it's gotten hard to ignore that some white people don't vote for Barack Obama.

The question, of course is why.  And in order to discuss that, naturally, we need to talk about some difficult subjects. And race, really is only part of it.  It's also class, and economics, and cultural tensions... but simmering under and around all of it is people talking frankly about race in a way that most people find uncomfortable, a way that has to acknowledge perceptions and prejudices without, necessarily, giving into them.

And I mean that both ways: some, I think, struggle with a way to talk about working class white voters that doesn't resort to "redneck" or "trailer trash" type stereotyping; the opposite, of course, is sweeping generalizations about black people that  are clearly prejudiced if not flat out racist. Complicating it are perceptions, stereotypes and casual notions many of us hold, things we rarely admit, or discuss with strangers.

There's more...


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