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.

14 thoughts on “The Nancy (and Chuck, and Joe) Problem

  1. To me the key thing AOC said about the current aging House leadership is that they are so afraid to lose they've forgotten how to win.  The big takeaway for me is the following, which is essentially what I've been screaming into the void for years:

    “When it comes to defending why we don’t . . . push visionary legislation, I hear the line so frequently from senior members, ‘I want to win,’ ” she said. “But what they mean by that is, ‘I only want to introduce bills that have a 100 percent chance of passing almost unanimously.’ But for new members, what’s important isn’t just winning but fighting. I don’t care about losing in the short term, because we know we’re fighting for the long term.”

    That last sentence is the one that really matters, we have to be willing to fight hard and lose short term to gain the credibility needed to win in the long term.  If voters think you don't care about your own policies they will turn their backs on what you stand for (but don't support).  If politicians don't really try why should voters reward them with victories?  Democrats have failed to learn this lesson and have been suffering under the umbrella of a phony centrism that has brought nothing but defeat in election after election. 

    Even when we win at the national level, as with Obama, Democrats immediately set about reassuring Republicans that "we really didn't mean it".  Case in point, firing Howard Dean whose 50-state strategy would have born fruit in later elections but which was abandoned by Obama, and caving to big Pharma and the insurance industry before negotiations even began on health care.

  2. I'm kinda thinking about Trump's wonderful telling of American military history this past 4th of July. And I'm also thinking about the situation concerning Nancy Pelosi with her reluctance to support an impeachment inquiry. In my thoughts I'm seeing a parallel of sorts to a situation that occurred in our history.

    Back during the Civil War, General George McCellan was considered one of our nations finest generals. He was beloved and admired by the troops who served under him. He was a first rate general who was able command and organize an army and prepare them for battle. But he had one flaw that lead to his dismissal from commanding the Army of the Potomac.

     McCellan was a general who obsessed with having everything in place, perfect conditions before he would make a move. So essentially he was paralyzed to action because the conditions that had to occur before he would act would never all line up. Eventually, Lincoln gave him the boot because he wouldn't fight, he looked good, but he wouldn't fight. An essential element when you're fighting a war.

     The parallel I'm seeing is that Nancy Pelosi is competent in all respects. She's good at what she can do, but she seems to be waiting, like MCellan, for perfect conditions before she will act to even try to put an end to the corruption and dysfunction that is Donald Trump. There's never going to be an ideal time to move, or a guarantee of success, but a failure to act will guarantee a failure to bring accountability for Trump's illegal and criminal behavior.

    Personally, I'd rather see the Dem's go down in flames trying than to just cower from a lack of faith in the American people. If your going to die away… at least die trying.

  3. I'm 59 & I agree with the kids.  I used to work for a NY assemblyman & I am personally acquainted with Chuck Schumer & a more charming man has never walked the earth.  But he's got to go.   My take on Pelosi is that Trump's got something very damaging on her or she would have already started impeachment proceedings long ago.

    • Once he’s impeached how do we get the Senate to remove him from office?

      What’s critical is to hold live hearings that pound Trump with his corruptions and lawbreaking every day, for days or weeks or months if needs be. And then when the case has been made, send the articles of impeachment to the Senate and dare them not to remove him. Then if the Republican Senate fails to remove him, let them crash and burn with him in 2020.

    • Getting Trump removed from office is not Pelosi's responsibility or obligation. She just needs to take the process as far as her responsibility requires.

      It's the same dynamic as a sheriff not making an arrest because there is a possibility the court won't convict. Every arrest brings with it the possibility of not securing a conviction. But every failure to arrest brings with it a guarantee of no conviction.

       To do nothing is to do something…and that something in this case would be allowing Trump to get away with his crimes.

  4. You can't just drop a statue or a figurehead and win the war.  We tried that in Iraq and the rest is a mess and chaos.  Oh and that welcome as conquering heroes just did not have the popular ground swell Bush and Co. predicted.  Saddam was a villain like Trump, but also like Trump he was enough of a tolerable leader villain with plenty of his people.  I think Nancy, Joe and Chuck have enough of a clue about politics to learn from the mistakes of other politicians.  Thinking impeachment will vilify Trump to his base is not wise thinking.  It is as silly as thinking the Iraqis would welcome us as conquering heroes.  His base will have none of it.  If you think they will, you have not even tried to "communicate" with his faithful.  They are truly a cult and thirst for Kool-Aid martyrdom.  Years of Fox propaganda from the likes of Anne, Rush, Laura, Bill and the like have formed masses of adoring idolizers.  Evangelical church leaders twist the bible, vie for jet planes, and practice hypocrisy as a level way beyond  Scribes and Pharisees of biblical days.  They readily ride the gospel of wealth and provide moral cover when needed.  

    The sane idea is to erode the pedestal on which the idol stands.  It is slower and less dramatic but the end result is superior by far.  Oh and what a gilded, corrupt pedestal it is.  The case of Jeffery Epstein has all the pedestal roaches in full flight.  From Palm Beach to between Fifth and Madison Avenues, from prestigious law offices to wall street, from politicians including both Trump and Clinton to the royal family it is duck, cover, and scurry time.  With a prior velvet glove history of the rule of law for the wayward rich this case this one is a story with more legs than a millipede, and the popular appeal that only sordid sex provides.  

    How those birds of a feather do flock together.  This from the Washington Post citing the Miami Herald.….how then-U.S. Attorney Alexander Acosta, now Trump’s labor secretary, shelved a 53-page federal indictment that could have put Epstein behind bars for life in favor of the deal that allowed him to plead guilty only to state charges. Acosta has defended the arrangement as guaranteeing that Epstein would go to jail.

    And from one idol to another words of praise.  From the NYT citing the New York Magazine.

    Mr. Trump, in 2002, told New York Magazine,  that Mr. Epstein was a “terrific guy.”

    “He’s a lot of fun to be with,” he said at the time. “It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side.”

    • "Thinking impeachment will vilify Trump to his base is not wise thinking".  It is utterly idiotic to govern an entire country based on what will "vilify Trump to his base".  What about the rest of the country?  The 70% of us who don't give a F about him & never did?  Who are disgusted on a daily basis with him AND his base?  Why should the Democratic leadership even bother with Trump's base?  Or ANY GOP voter?

      • Good point.  I am still wrestling with the question of why does Trump even have a base and the low but significant approval rating he has.  Also, how did he hijack the GOP except for a few?  I am far from an answer on impeachment.  That we are at the place we are –must have been due to many a poor path choice over a long journey I think.  So pardon my skepticism, I too would like a quick end to this suffering. From my vantage point, though, the map is fuzzy or lost and the compass seems out of whack. 

      • I can't echo your comments loud and long enough.  I've been saying the same thing, on impeachment and every other issue the dems trot out this canard to justify their own timidity.  The democratic base + those who tend to vote democratic, when mobilized, are far more numerous than the GOP wingnut faithful.  We don’t need the support of their base to win.  But we have do need to mobilize, and it’s going to be much more difficult when the only actions dems take are those that the GOP will support, because this effectively concedes whatever power they have to the GOP.  Is it any wonder a standard question is, what does the democratic party stand for?  When you don't fight for what your constituents want, the honest answer to that today is, whatever the GOP will allow them to.  Pelosi took the same approach on the immigration bill, not even fighting for more but just accepting what McConnell dictated.  To heck with the GOP base; how is this approach motivating to OUR base??  

  5. " They’re four people and that’s how many votes they got "

    I'm not really seeing how that statement or anything else Nancy has said about the freshman class is vilifying anyone? If anyone is being vilified it's Nancy. Nancy is 100% correct, they have four votes, what about the other two hundred and thirty or so democrats in the house, what are they chopped liver? What is Nancy supposed to do praise AOC for voting against a bill she and the overwhelming majority of the democratic caucus supported? AOC et-al can and should promote the policies they support, but they will need to get the rest of the caucus on-board at some point. That is done through compromise. If all she wants is headlines then AOC is doing what she needs to do, if she really wants to enact change through law (that is what the house of representatives does), then she'll need to get serious about doing the work off camera and away from twitter, by engaging her colleagues. Without mainstream support in the democratic caucus AOC runs the risk of becoming the Louie Gohmert of the left, only with a bigger twitter following!

    • then she'll need to get serious about doing the work off camera and away from twitter, by engaging her colleagues. 

       Her public exposure is a big source of her power and voice. She would be foolish to toss that aside. She can and has been engaging her colleagues to achieve her objectives.

       As I see it, the only reason she has drawn criticism and ridicule is because the GOP senses that she has tapped into a source of oppositional power that they are not prepared to deal with. I hear that even Trump with his shrewd sense of perceiving threats to his abusive control of people has pointed out a vague similarity of AOC to Evita Peron. It could be she possesses the perception or the reality of a genuine bond and concern for the common folks.

       I see her as a real person with a true desire to do what's right to help us commoners.. She might have her flaws, we all do, but I'll take flaws tempered with sincerity over flaws that are masked in deceit.

      And to say that she could become the Louie Gomert of the left is hitting way below the belt… Gomert is in a class all his own. He's the type of bigoted asshat that would bring the rope to a lynching. And be proud of it.

  6. "to say that she could become the Louie Gomert of the left is hitting way below the belt"

    Maybe, my point is there have always been extremes in both party's, if they are not willing to moderate their positions and seek compromise within their own caucus then they eventually become someone that isn't taken seriously. Who is more of a clown than Louie Gohmert, I just thought it was a good (albeit ostentatious) example of what can happen, I'm not equating her with Gohmert? Either way I see all of this continuous trashing of the democratic establishment as petty election season politics. It just shows that many so called progressives cannot be trusted to eventually support whoever we democrats choose to nominate through the election process. When the argument is that Nancy Pelosi isn't liberal enough, well good luck with that one.

  7. I guess you can't take a stand if your spine is made of Jello, huh?

    I'm with AOC and the other rebels.

    It's long past time to get into attack mode!

    With my health problems, I don't think I'll be around in a decade, so very soon, either the lame Democratic Party shakes off the shackles they put on themselves after Reagan defeated Carter, or I'll be spending what's left of my life watching America die not in a tragic way, but in a farcical one.  Defeated not by the stars or our enemies, but by ourselves and our prejudices.

    And I'm glad I'll be dead before the world's countries all turn into Authoritarian states, and/or climate starts a mass human extinction.

    Because if we don't fight hard to win both houses of Congress and the presidency in 2020, tRUMP and conservatives will establish a way that other wannabe dictators can take over a democratic country.  And an Authoritarian state won't give a shite about our climate growing more and more menacing.  That just means the corrupt grifters in those governments have less time to tear every last bit of money from those not in their clique.

    And if that is what happens, humanity will be oppressed not only be their government's, but by our changing climate.

    I feel sorry for the younger generations which will have to deal with these coming oppressions.

    I'll be long dead, so why do I care?

    Because I'm a proud liberal, and that's what we do:  care.


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