Saving Nancy Pelosi?

Democratic Party

Part of the fallout of the John Ossoff loss is that a number of people are now calling for Nancy Pelosi to step down as Minority Leader in the House. I understand Handel used the terrifying specter of Pelosi in her ads against Ossoff, and it worked. Last year I saw a lot of Republican ads here in Missouri that used Nancy Pelosi against a Democrat, and they appeared to be effective.

I’m ambivalent about Pelosi, frankly. On the one hand, I agree with what Charles Pierce wrote here

In my time on this earth, I’ve seen Republican propaganda turn a decent centrist like Michael Dukakis into a signatory of the Port Huron statement. I’ve seen it turn a decorated war hero like John Kerry into a Francophone poltroon. I’ve seen it turn a radical centrist/Rockefeller Republican like Bill Clinton into a dope-smoking refugee from the Monterey Pop Festival. I’ve seen kindly old Tip O’Neill turned into a Thomas Nast cartoon, and I’ve seen Barack Obama turned into an Islamic Kenyan holy man. I’ve seen an audience created for every one of these manufactured creations, and I’ve seen that audience respond to them as if they had the firmest basis in reality.

So you will pardon me if I’m dubious of the notion that congressional Democrats have to rid themselves of Nancy Pelosi because she was so easily demonized in that Georgia special election. If it wasn’t her, it would have been somebody else. To paraphrase the editor in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, if there’s a conflict between the person and the legend, slander the legend.

On the other hand, I think that the debacle that was last year’s election revealed the Dems desperately need to rebuild the brand. And they’re not going to do that with the same old faces in the top leadership positions. Tessa Stuart wrote in Rolling Stone,

Mailer after mailer, TV ad after TV ad reinforced the link between Ossoff and Pelosi, who internal GOP polling showed had strong negatives for Republican voters in the district. According to the Washington Post, Pelosi had 98 percent name recognition in the district but her approval rating was “35 points underwater.”

In South Carolina, the GOP similarly took pains to link Parnell and Pelosi – even as Parnell campaigned with Tim Ryan, the Ohio congressman who challenged Pelosi for minority leadership in November.

I confess, I don’t entirely get why Pelosi in particular is so hated in red America, but she is. Sexism plays a role in that, I’m sure, which makes it unfair to Pelosi. But last year, as I watched from a red state, it seemed all the Republicans had to do is somehow tie any Democratic candidate to Nancy Pelosi, and that Dem was toast.

Matt Stoller wrote,

Popularity isn’t everything, but in this case, the American people are right. It is time for Pelosi to go. Passing the torch would be the right thing to do, and not just because of horserace politics. Pelosi is an excellent vote-wrangler and fundraiser, and she has a long and honorable record of defending a certain type of Democratic politics. But at this moment in history, her political frame is a barrier to the much-needed renewal of the Democratic Party.

Stoller calls this the “pity problem”:

When Pelosi sees poverty or discrimination, she sees the people being affected as unfortunate victims who need and deserve a helping hand. Poverty and discrimination are unfortunate. But more fundamentally, they represent a lack of freedom ― freedom that someone, or some system, has taken from you. You are not free if you can’t afford to see a doctor. You are not free if you cannot access a good education because of your race or income. You are not free if your landlord can cheat you because you’re poor. You are not free if you are a family farmer being driven under by meatpacking monopolists. 

Poverty as a lack of freedom connects with a larger problem: More and more of us are having our liberties stolen. Entrepreneurs are savaged by private equity firms and monopolies, young lawyers are burdened by student debt, and we are all being subjected to a health care system full of egregiously large and mismanaged hospital systems, pharmaceutical companies and drug stores. Poverty is a concentrated form of the problems all Americans are increasingly facing.

Too many Democrats have never thought about their politics in this way, or considered the notion that there might be an alternative frame through which to pursue a progressive agenda.

This issue, as venture capitalist Nick Hanauer, put it, is deep. “Pelosi, and the rest of the party learned everything they know about economics from Trickledown’ers,” he said on Twitter. “Thus, they think there is a trade-off between growth and fairness and cannot articulate an economic story distinct from Republicans, except with pity.” 

Put another way — the Dem leadership suffers from a big lack of imagination and a narrow perspective on what’s needed and what’s possible. This in turn has left a lot of people frustrated with the Dems.

Alejandro Chavez, Democracy for America’s campaign manager, told The Fix:

Nancy Pelosi is not where we need to go. She’s failed leadership. While she might be doing some great things in her district, the truth is she’s the person who’s been leading this front that we’ve been running on for years, so she has to go as leadership.

What she’s doing isn’t working. She’s the leadership, it’s failed and, ultimately, it’s her responsibility.

But then there’s the question of who should replace her.  And this brings up another issue that is not just true of Pelosi, but of the Democratic Party national leadership generally. It seems to be more difficult for younger talent to break into the Dem Party power structure than is true of Republicans. Dem leadership is just plain old. Dana Milbank wrote last year,

Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader, will be 77 next year.

Steny Hoyer, her deputy, will be 78.

Jim Clyburn, the No. 3 Democratic leader, will be 77.

Their current ages, if combined, would date back to 1787, the year George Washington presided over the signing of the Constitution.

It is time for them to go.   …

… Democrats would benefit from some fresh blood to take on Donald Trump, the oldest president ever elected for the first time, and to revive enthusiasm among millennials, who didn’t turn out in the numbers Democrats needed.

After the debacle that was last year, the Democratic Party needs to be able to hang out a shingle that says “under new management.” Seriously.

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  1. JDM  •  Jun 25, 2017 @5:08 pm

    A large part of why Pelosi is attacked is because she’s been an effective leader in Congress. We need effective vote wranglers along with more actual liberals who will openly say they’re liberals and push liberal positions and bills. Starting out the rebuilding of the Democratic Party by replacing Pelosi would be incredibly stupid. That’s way the hell down the road, after we get strong liberals who’ve then learned to vote wrangle.

  2. maha  •  Jun 25, 2017 @6:14 pm

    JDM — That’s a good point, but it’s also the case that the unpopularity of Pelosi is part of why we don’t have more strong liberals in the House. So we’re at an impasse here.

  3. csm  •  Jun 25, 2017 @5:20 pm

    A good friend who’s been a lockstep supporter of the 2016 incarnation of democratic leadership strategy, tactics and candidate, speaking of the AHCA and the republicans barrage of lies about that monstrosity of a bill tells me that:

    “If I were the Dems I would stay far away from this and let them self-destruct over this.”

    I had to remind him:

    In 2004 Kerry said nothing, waiting for the Swift Boater’s lies to self destruct them, and he lost because they didn’t.

    While in office, Obama waited for the people to understand the basics of the ACA and didn’t say much, and the opposite happened.

    In 2016, Clinton and Obama decided “when they go low, we go high.” Translation: don’t even bother with refuting their lies. That worked out just great.

    And once again, the republicans are coming out with a barrage of lies about the AHCA and what it will do.

    Already, the media is taking these AHCA lies on face value as, “another perspective,” equally as valid as facts. This one isn’t over yet but it won’t surprise me if the GOP gets away with lying this monstrosity into law while dems stay silent on the facts.

    I can’t think of one instance where staying quiet and waiting for the right to self destruct bore any fruit for dems. Can you?

    Staying far away and waiting for the GOP to self-destruct always ends up being self destructive to do those doing the waiting.

    This is insanity. Its why Pelosi and all those party leaders have got to go. Where is the evidence that THIS TIME this will work, when its never worked before?

    The republicans will demonize whoever leads the democrats. That’s a given. But the reason Pelosi and others must go is because they think the best approach is keeping their heads down, “going high” and somehow they might get overlooked. Its a lot like that ostrich putting its head in the sand, thinking because it now can’t see the predator, the predator can’t see it.

    Why would anyone see that as strong leadership?

  4. Bonnie  •  Jun 25, 2017 @8:34 pm

    The Republicans and fox news are the equivalent of Tokyo Rose. What was done to counteract Tokyo Rose?

  5. priscianus jr  •  Jun 25, 2017 @8:44 pm

    It’s nonsense, Barack Obama is at least as hated on the right as Pelosi, and he was a rising star in the leadership a mere decade ago. Enough of these purely symbolic ritual sacrifices.

    Now … say it after me. John Ossoff ,,, is ,,, not that important. If he had won, great, but it was a long shot, and what’s really importnt is how close he came. That bodes well, folks, not badly.

    Just as Newt Gingrich is a stupid person’s idea of a very smart person Pelosi is a right-winger’s idea of a bad left-winger.

    Nobody is more critical of the tired Democratic thinking than I am (I’m a Berniecrat, remember). Yet I just don’t see Pelosi as deserving any special blame for the disaster that is the present Democratic party. She’s a big target and therefore a scapegoat, but she’s been a savvy and effective leader under very difficult circumstances.. I blame the Clintons and their acolytes ten times as much.

  6. maha  •  Jun 25, 2017 @8:49 pm

    priscianus jr I agree that Ossoff is not that important, but he exemplifies a bigger problem that is important.

  7. uncledad  •  Jun 26, 2017 @7:17 am

    I like Nancy, I like her politics, but she should have stepped down as leader after the democrats got shellacked in 2010.

  8. bernie  •  Jun 26, 2017 @7:57 am

    I used to pile up surveys Pelosi sent.  Since I do not do surveys, especially poorly designed ones, I was keeping a count of how much money they would spend before they understood that I was not a survey taking kind of a guy.  Well the pile got too big and unmanageable, and I think I finally just threw them out in disgust.  The strategy must have worked though, as I no longer get surveys on a bi-weekly (or so it seemed) basis.  They must have finally hired someone to match the mailing list with survey takers and non-takers, and are now saving money there.  Now there is some improvement.  She won’t last forever, though, and you never know what kind of a learning curve you will get on a replacement.  Might be time to pass out some mini torches at least.  

  9. c u n d gulag  •  Jun 26, 2017 @9:56 am

    My comment from last night disappeared?

  10. maha  •  Jun 26, 2017 @12:43 pm

    c u n d — I didn’t delete anything, and it’s not in the twit filter.

  11. Doug  •  Jun 26, 2017 @10:13 am

    Changing Nancy out for ‘new’ leadership that’s just as sold-out to corporate interests is like changing the condom on the object causing you so much pain with little real affection or loyalty. If we’re going to quit being serviced by the democratic party, in the sense a cow is serviced by a bull, we have to insist, demand and require that the party will NOT take money from any source OTHER than the people and within the limits set by law. No PACs – denounce any supporting superPACs. Work for the people and only the people and prove it with the money. Money is sincere.

    The party will NEVER do it. Leadership is in it for the money – they not only select the staff within the party structure (sold-out greedy bastards),, they select the candidates. SO when you go to the polls, the option you have is the sold-out bastard the party management selected for you. Or the republican. Some choice.

    If they have a lock on the management in the party and the leadership in Congress, how can we ever win. Answer: the primary! We have to teach the voters (who have been feeling what’s in that condom for decades) that they can get new leadership by replacing the incumbents with honest politicians who have committed specifically to getting the money out of politics. First. Not bathroom rights. Not planned parenthood. Because nothing will happen on global warming or universal health care or public education or prison reform or world peace while corporations can make money by manipulating governments to have wars, make prisons, ration health care and pollute the planet.

    You want to do any of that – you can’t get there by trading Nancy for some other younger crook. Party leadership is castrated when the majority in their party in Congress won’t take orders. And when they are able to change the laws on what the party can do. The only weapon we have is the vote – the election where you vote matters most is the election where you can leverage big change – that’s the election you probably pass on – the primary.

  12. Bill  •  Jun 26, 2017 @4:57 pm

    Couldn’t Dems ‘do the Donald’, except this time with an anti-establishment alpha type who actually was successful, didn’t have the multiple bankruptcies, wasn’t a pathological liar, and molester, who really just wanted to serve and give back and was a qualified problem solver who couldn’t think of restocking the swamp with more gators, who didn’t speak gibberish all the time?

    What if a real hero of the people turned up? Would the dem establishment just wind up in some corner, the strong ones pushing the weaker ones forward, to go smear the guy (or gal)?

    It might be easier to just change the system to make it inhospitable for these flaming bags of shit we keep getting stuck with.