Pelosi: Long may she reign
The aftermath of the Georgia special election has some Democrats and liberals soiling bedsheets over the effect of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on the party’s longevity and messaging. Pelosi isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean it’s not time for Democrats to begin to look to a life without her.
Pelosi is from Baltimore, and has a long history with the city, so I’m biased. She was my speaker; she should have been Speaker for Life. She was left wing back when it wasn’t anywhere near cool. She took office right before Reagan successfully handed off a two-term presidency to George H.W. Bush, made it through the Republican revolution of the ’90s, and successfully guided the Democrats through the Bush years, away from impeachment, and then led them to their biggest majorities in decades in 2006 and 2008.
She played it perfectly. She might be the only Democrat in congressional leadership to have not botched the opposition strategy with a Republican president. During her reign as speaker, Pelosi passed healthcare reform with a public option and climate change legislation so aggressive that a Democratic Senate wouldn’t bring to the floor. Every good thing Obama did during his first two years in office was because of Pelosi. She was the brass in Obama’s balls, and she rescued Boehner more times than can be counted. Her votes saved the country from a depression. She’s a fucking powerhouse, the most underrated bareknuckle brawler of the last 50 years. She planned to retire after Hillary Clinton won, her life’s work being over. But with Trump’s win and daily debasement of this country, her plans changed. A sense of duty is a hard thing to find these days.
Pelosi knows that, with Obama and Clinton gone, there is only one big liberal punching bag left. She knows that she now motivates more Republicans than Democrats. She’s cutthroat enough to be aware that something needs to change. The Ossoff loss, and the reaction to it, made it obvious that the long-simmering hatred of authority that exists within the liberal base has finally turned its eye toward her.
The national image of Democrats needs to be refurbished, but so much of politics is riding out the tough times and waiting for your opposition to die out. If Democrats support Obama in the numbers they have (and still do), why not the former speaker? She was far more liberal than he was, after all. She’s the greatest vote counter Democrats have ever had and one of the party’s greatest fundraisers of all time. Is booting Pelosi the wisest choice for a party out of power that’s having issues raising money?
We’ve been led to believe that Pelosi’s tenure and leadership has become its own distraction, but midterms aren’t about congressional leadership; they’re about the public’s current mood toward the incumbency. And this president is one corrupt, confused, dingus puppet.
There are 26 districts up in 2018 that Hillary Clinton won, and several others that she barely lost. This isn’t hard, even with the redistricting that Republicans got away with after 2010. Democrats retake the House if they win by 7%. That’s all it takes. And the first midterm for any president is a minefield.
With Pelosi and Steny Hoyer in charge of the House Democrats, I’m proud of the stranglehold Maryland has on the party, but it may also be suffocating. There’s the danger of becoming the thing that you once raged against and overstaying your welcome. Living long enough to see yourself become the villain is an essential truth in politics. There’s such a thing as mission creep when it comes to political parties, and last year it officially took hold of the Democrats. And Pelosi can smell blood better than anyone in Congress.
They need to modernize and rebrand, and it needs to be now. There are a lot of younger members of Congress that need to be pushed up into leadership positions if the party is going to do to Trump what they did to Bush. Rather than going with white dudes like Tim Ryan or Seth Moulton, the Democrats should lean into the cultural divide, go left, and show just how diverse the party is. Why not promote Keith Ellison and groom him to be the next Democratic speaker? Why not Joaquin Castro, Ted Lieu, or Cheri Bustos? The same could be said for Senate Democratic leadership. Kamala Harris, Catherine Cortez Masto, there’s a list of young dynamic, ambitious senators ready for leadership positions.
Pelosi has served the party and country well. She deserves better than to be thrown away for a less-than-guaranteed midterm win. Hope springs eternal for liberal Democrats, and there’s not a one in the party who can say they don’t want to see her retake the speakership. They want redemption. But something needs to change, even it’s only cosmetic. Pelosi’s last gift to Democrats may be to move aside and give someone young a chance. Or at least train and prepare them for the wars to come.
When she passed healthcare reform in 2010, Pelosi borrowed the old Tip O’Neill line about all politics being local and changed it to “All politics is personal.” That’s what I’ll remember and love her for. It was the greatest example of government being used for honest good in people’s lives I have ever seen. I want more. I want her back. But I’m a realist, and so is she. Winning is all that matters.
The day is approaching when Nancy Pelosi will have to throw in the towel, but I’ll be damned if I’m the one to tell her. She was there before Bush and after Obama, and if we’re lucky, she could be speaker when we take Trump down. There’s a reason Republicans hate her. She’s the most powerful and accomplished woman in American history. Nothing riles Republicans more than their deep hatred of an independent, successful woman. What is required now, though, is for their supporters, and thus voters, to be subdued.