The Nancy (and Chuck, and Joe) Problem

Just six months after Nancy Pelosi trimphantly re-took the speaker’s gavel in the House — she is under fire, big time, Democrats who are not at all happy with her leadership.

She is under fire, in part, because of her repeated belittling and marginalizing of the freshman progressive House members, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts. Pelosi slammed them again recently in an interview with Maureen Dowd.

 “All these people have their public whatever and their Twitter world,” she said. “But they didn’t have any following. They’re four people and that’s how many votes they got.”

David Atkins:

Nancy Pelosi has been one of the most effective Democratic leaders the modern era. She is at least partly responsible for most of the good things Democrats have done at the federal level in the last many decades, and for stopping an enormous amount of terrible conservative policy. But this is pointless.

The young freshmen in Congress including Katie Porter, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Katie Hill, Rashida Tlaib and Pramila Jayapal are providing more energy and excitement than the party has seen since Barack Obama ran for president. From the Green New Deal to the concentration camps on the border, they are doing more to push the Overton Window to the left and hold the conservative movement accountable for its moral debasement than anyone has in years.

Atkins goes on to say that Pelosi’s words make no sense even if you think the main body of the party must remain passive in the face of atrocity and fascism to remain politically viable.

Even in a world dominated by that level of cynicism, it would still make sense to have some part of the caucus give voice to the outrage shared by the tens of millions of Americans who want to see some level of justice done for tortured children and the beleaguered country. If everything Democrats do in the House is just a show for a small segment of Midwestern swing state voters pending the next election, it would make more sense to put on an entire kabuki performance: let the leadership do what it theoretically must, let the outraged moral compass of the party fume indignantly, and then let leadership admire its courage and clarity while rejecting it tactically, or preferably say nothing at all.

Actively dissing the party’s most energized base to a national columnist makes no sense unless you actively believe that the energized base isn’t just potentially losing the votes of a handful of people who would be irrelevant but for their irrational empowerment by the electoral college in a deeply divided country, but rather that the energized base truly speaks for only a tiny minority of the country.

See also

On Thursday morning, a reporter asked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) what her party planned to do about writer E. Jean Carroll’s recent rape allegation against President Donald Trump.

Pelosi’s response was not a profile in courage.

“I haven’t spent any time on that,” she said, raising her arms in frustration. “I don’t know the people you’re referencing, I don’t know the person making the accusation. I haven’t paid that much attention to it.”

Not only was the top Democrat in Congress oddly unfamiliar with one of the biggest political stories of the past month, she did not believe her caucus had a responsibility to do anything about it.

“I don’t know what Congress’ role would be in any of this. But in any of these things, this isn’t about what Congress would do, this is about what the president’s own party would do. You’d really have to ask them. I’m busy worrying about children not being in their mothers’ arms,” she added.

Okay, but she’s been pretty helpless to deal with that, also, which takes us to the issue at hand.  I wrote last week that the “establishment” Dems like Pelosi have been oddly quiet about the border crisis, allowing the Dem presidential candidates and the freshman progressives to make most of the noise. How is this helping the Democratic Party brand?

While not pressing for impeachment or visibly calling out Trump, the House Democrats have been busily passing all kinds of worthwhile legislation that will never be voted on in the Senate and which most Americans will never hear about. Is this really the best path to re-election?

See Will Bunch, Can Democrats grow a spine before American democracy collapses in a limp, lifeless heap?

The plan backed by many House Democrats would have taken money away from ICE —which any hour now may launch disruptive raids in cities across the United States — and unnecessary military activity at the border and put the savings into true humanitarian aid for refugees fleeing murder and rape in Central America. It also had much stronger safeguards for how migrants would be treated. This plan —much truer to American values than the gulag archipelago run by Team Trump — never stood a chance. Bullied by McConnell, the Trumpists, and their allies to pass a harsh Senate bill before the July 4 break or be called a bunch of bad names, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her moderate clique of House Democratic leaders caved faster than the epicenter of a Southern California earthquake.

It was not a good deal. While about half the Democratic caucus was fighting to save lives, Pelosi was negotiating for House members to be informed within 24 hours after a kid dies in the camps.

I understand the argument that had the Dems not passed the bill, Trump would have been all over the place hollering that it was the Democrats, not him, who denied soap and toothpaste to little children. This is the same scam Republicans have been using to blackmail Dems for years — vote for our pointless war or we’ll tell America that you’re with our enemies. Vote for our tax cuts for the rich or we’ll tell Americans you don’t want them to have jobs. After all these years, why is it the Democrats remain helpless about being blackmailed in plain sight?

Barring a bombshell revelation that goes beyond anything we’ve seen before, I simply can’t imagine a scenario where Congress holds Trump accountable for his abuses of power and impeaches him between now and Jan. 20, 2021. Can you? And the blame for that falls squarely on Pelosi and other House moderates.

But Pelosi — whose people-management skills in holding together an unruly Democratic caucus are admirable, but who fails to grasp how seriously democracy is threatened in the Trump era — doesn’t deserve all of the blame. On the Senate side, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer — the dictionary definition of a Wall Street Democrat — also signed on to the terrible border bill and has shown no skill in blocking a rapid Trumpist takeover of the federal judiciary. The Democrats’ current front-runner (albeit slipping fast) for president, former Vice President Joe Biden, has a 1973 mentality about how politics works in Washington — delusional that his magical powers of persuasion and congeniality will somehow convince our norms-murdering Republicans to abruptly put down the gun.

Mehdi Assan writes at the Intercept:

In the wake of November’s midterms, Pelosi mocked calls from AOC and her allies for a Green New Deal: “The green dream or whatever they call it, nobody knows what it is, but they’re for it right?”

To be clear: none of these freshmen Democrats have personally attacked Pelosi and all four of them backed her bid for the speakership. As CNN’s Nathan McDermott tweeted, “It is pretty notable that the most vocally anti-Pelosi Democrats (ala the moderates in swing districts who opposed her leadership) don’t get as much criticism from her as the left-wing of the party.”

How about Donald Trump? Pelosi is willing to criticize Trump — “I’ve never encountered, thought about, seen within the realm of my experiences as a child or an adult, anybody like this” — but only criticize. Nothing more. Not impeachment, that’s for sure. The top Democrat in the House told Dowd that the president has engaged in criminal behavior but — wait for it — “you can’t impeach everybody.”

Last year when we were arguing about whether Pelosi should be speaker again, her supporters kept telling us how effective she is. And that’s true; she is damn effective. Nobody has ever done a better job of holding a fractious caucus together as she has, I’m sure. But those who questioned her weren’t concerned about her effectiveness; they were concerned that she is out of touch with the times and would effectively mis-lead. And time has shown us those concerns were well founded.

Ryan Grim’s article at WaPo — Haunted by the Reagan era — analyzes the generational divide among Democrats.

Frustration with the refusal to stand up for principle is boiling over among younger Democrats. On issue after issue — impeachment, Medicare-for-all, a $15 minimum wage, free public college, a Green New Deal — the answer from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and other Democratic leaders is consistent: Now is not the time; the country isn’t ready. Push too fast or too far, and there’ll be a backlash.

For newer members of the party’s caucus, the older generation’s fear of a backlash is befuddling. “Leadership is driven by fear. They seem to be unable to lead,” said Corbin Trent, a spokesman for Ocasio-Cortez and a co-founder of Justice Democrats, the insurgent political organization that powered her rise, while also backing Omar and Tlaib. “I’m not sure what caused it.” …

…The way the older and younger House members think about and engage with the Republican Party may be the starkest divide between them. Democratic leaders like Pelosi, Joe Biden, Steny Hoyer and Chuck Schumer were shaped by their traumatic political coming-of-age during the breakup of the New Deal coalition and the rise of Ronald Reagan — and the backlash that swept Democrats so thoroughly from power nearly 40 years ago. They’ve spent the rest of their lives flinching at the sight of voters. When these leaders plead for their party to stay in the middle, they’re crouching into the defensive posture they’ve been used to since November 1980, afraid that if they come across as harebrained liberals, voters will turn them out again.

The Ocasio-Cortezes of the world have witnessed the opposite: The way they see it, Democratic attempts to moderate and compromise have led to nothing but ruin. Republicans aren’t the ones to be afraid of. “The greatest threat to mankind is the cowardice of the Democratic Party,” Trent told me.

I am closer to Pelosi’s age than I am to AOC’s, but I have to say it — the kids are right. The landscape has changed. We have to stop playing defense. We should have stopped playing defense many years ago. I said as much back in 2016. I’ve said it a few times before that, I’m sure. One can make an argument that Bill Clinton’s move to the right in 1992 was the only way a Democrat could have won back when Reagan was still an object of worship in most of the country. But the young folks who aren’t old enough to remember Reagan as president — or FDR, JFK, RFK  or even Hubert Humphrey — have been turning away from the Democrats in disgust as the irrelevant party that betrays their trust as often as not.

Do read all of Grim’s essay, which is very good.