The Fightin Side of Nancy Pelosi

Richard Eskow

Nancy Pelosi has just announced that she’s running for the position of House Minority Leader. As a San Franciscan, maybe she understood that turning her leadership role over to the Blue Dogs would have been like giving the Giants franchise to Oakland. She’s been the most effective Speaker in a generation and she’ll be equally effective in the opposition. If you agree, why not tell your Representative how you feel?

“Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

There are fighters and there are quitters. Nancy Pelosi’s no quitter. It’s great to see somebody who doesn’t adopt the typical DC defensive crouch when things get tough. Some politicians are chameleons, cold blooded creatures who’d rather take on the protective coloration of their opponents than stand and fight. Not her. Cheerleading’s not really my thing, but if anyone deserves cheers she does.

Pelosi lost the Speaker’s gavel through no fault of her own, after the Senate nullified some of her greatest achievements and the big-money interests spent mega-millions to bring her down. The money boys won that gavel – for now – but that doesn’t mean her work is done. The Democrats need her leadership, the President needs her guidance, and the country needs her voice.

After the struggle of the last few years, Pelosi might have found the idea of stepping down attractive. Who wouldn’t? Life would be so much easier as an ordinary member of Congress. She and her family would be spared all the vile personal attacks – attacks that have been funded by Wall Street and distributed by its minions. And after a couple of years of relative peace she could have gone home to San Francisco, where she might have sipped coffee on the veranda as the fog rolled silently through its watercolor hills. Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?

Sorry, Madam Speaker. You’re needed elsewhere.

Success Story

After leading House Democrats to their 2006 victory, Pelosi’s Congress chalked up a stunning record of legislative achievement. Unfortunately, this accomplishment was obscured and partially neutralized by the ditherings of a hapless Senate held hostage by a cynical minority. The Senate’s Democratic leaders were too gridlocked by the filibuster to build on Pelosi’s accomplishments, and too diffident to fight back aggressively against the GOP’s abuse of the filibuster. More than 400 of Pelosi’s bills weren’t even voted on in the Senate, since the leadership there was reluctant to introduce them.

It’s a little ironic that Harry Reid’s keeping his majority leader role while Pelosi’s losing hers. Had Reid been more like Pelosi – if he had been willing to take more fights to the floor of the Senate, forcing his opponents to defend unpopular positions – things might be very different today. In a very real sense, the House of Representatives was punished for the sins of the Senate. Minority Leader Pelosi will be able to lead the Senate Democrats by example next year as Harry Reid’s advisor and partner.

Consider this: Nancy Pelosi’s Congress passed health reform bill that included the public option and taxed the wealthy, rather than workers’ health benefits. Had that bill passed, instead of the Senate’s, it’s very likely that Scott Brown wouldn’t have been elected last January. (1) Senate Democrats would probably have retained a 60-seat majority, and might – just might – have used it to pass more and better legislation.

Nancy Pelosi’s Congress passed a better financial reform bill than the Senate’s, it passed a better jobs bill, it passed a carbon cap bill, and it passed a larger stimulus. There must be something in San Francisco’s water, because that’s like winning the World Series four games to one.

An Echo, Not a Choice

The anti-Pelosi movement is led by some Blue Dog Democrats, a group of right-leaning politicians whose Republican-lite ideas are exactly what got House Democrats into this mess. If they succeed, Congressional Democrats will be represented by somebody who offers no clear alternative to the pro-corporate, anti-small business, and anti-elderly philosophy of the GOP.

Here’s a glimpse into a certain future: The corporatist Republican approach of the next Congress will produce nothing but gridlock, more joblessness, crumbling infrastructure – and very possibly another (and even more severe) recession. How will the Democrats respond when that happens? If Pelosi’s opponents have their way, they won’t be able to offer anything except watered-down versions of the same failed ideas. At that moment the American people will deserve a choice between two philosophies of governance. If they Blue Dogs have their way, they won’t get it.

One of the Democrats who wants Nancy Pelosi’s is newcomer Health Shuler. Heath Shuler? If Shuler wants to quarterback the Democratic team, he’s probably hoping nobody remembers his career as a quarterback. As a politician, Shuler’s led the charge to repeat and amplify right-wing themes that paint Democratic values as un-American. Shuler is anti-choice, anti-gun sanity, and anti-immigrant.

Remember, the Democrats lost this election because their core constituencies didn’t show up for them. How would a Shuler-led Congress do with key Democratic constituencies like young voters, women, and Latinos? Let’s just say that Democrats could anticipate a lot of electoral … interceptions.

Shuler’s still considered a long shot for the job (maybe because too many Washingtonians remember the first Shuler era, when he quarterbacked the Redskins.) Steny Hoyer’s a likelier pick. Let’s just say that Hoyer’s not a dynamic public figure. He’s also far to the right of both his party and the American public on economic issues, aggressively emphasizing deficit reduction at a time when most economists believe government action is needed to address unemployment first. What’s more, he has pushed aggressively for cutting Social Security and would almost certainly lead Democrats on a political kamikaze mission to reduce retirement benefits.

What finally moved the understated Mr. Hoyer to a rare outburst of passion? Was it massive unemployment? Runaway bank greed? An assault on our civil liberties? Well, no. Instead Hoyer was publicly outraged by Stephen Colbert’s in-character testimony on the Hill on behalf of farmworkers. Is that the leader who’ll electrify the critical youth vote? Hoyer’s no Blue Dog, but he won’t move the Democrats in the right direction.

Better Policies, Better Results

Nancy Pelosi once led the Congressional Progressive Caucus. One of the interesting outcomes of this election is that, despite Democratic losses, the Progressive Caucus will actually have more members than it did before. The Blue Dogs, on the other hand, were decimated. Most of the Blue Dog losses are due to the fact that they were elected in swing districts where any Democrat would have had an extremely difficult time. But outspoken progressives like Raul Grijalva, who were widely expected to lose this year, fought their way to victory. That’s food for thought. (Dave Dayen did an excellent writeup of the Blue Dog/Progressive Caucus issue.)

Barack Obama needs Nancy Pelosi, too – although he may not know it. Time and time again, Speaker Pelosi guided (and sometimes goaded) the President into adopting positions that were more popular than the ones he would have otherwise taken, either because of his own leanings or to placate the Senate. The President needs a strong progressive voice to counteract the advice he’ll get from Senate leaders and some of his own inner circle. Who better than Nancy Pelosi?

Corporate-Financed Hate Speech

Powerful economic forces targeted Nancy Pelosi and spent enormous sums of money to bring her down. They spent $50 million, in fact, and money talks. And as we wrote the other day, these forces don’t hesitate to use the ugliest impulses of racism, sexism, and xenophobia. The anti-Pelosi campaign was a case study in the ugliest form of hate campaigning. When Republicans portrayed her as Satan they were showing their kinder, gentler side. The preferred tactics were sexist: Republicans and their big-media allies characterized her as the Wicked Witch, “Pussy Galore,” a “hag,” and a “bitch.” And you don’t want to know what their blogger pals have been saying …

The loss of Pelosi’s leadership would be a victory for ugliest impulses among us – impulses that have been aided, abetted, and financed by the big money cabal led by lobbyists from Wall Street and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

It’s Your Turn

If you care about better policy, you want Nancy Pelosi in a leadership position. So if you do, this page will make it easy to let your Representative know that you support her. You can also use Twitter to let Speaker Pelosi know you appreciate somebody who’s not afraid of a tough battle or two (she’s @SpeakerPelosi). If she can fight like hell when the chips are down, surely the rest of us can do that much.
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Regarding Scott Brown’s victory (it seems so long ago, doesn’t it?): There’s more here and here, but these are the highlights: By a 3 to 2 margin, Obama voters who voted for Brown thought that Obama’s reform bill “doesn’t go far enough.” Those Obama voters who didn’t bother voting felt that way by a 6 to 1 margin. 82% of Obama voters who went for Brown (and 86% of those who stayed home) support a public option. And 57% of Brown voters said that Obama is “not delivering enough” on change.

What’s more, that health benefit tax (the misnamed “Cadillac tax”) drove even more voters into Brown’s waiting arms: “Fully 42% of voters believed the health care bill would tax employer health benefits, and those voters voted for Brown by two to one.”

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