June 29, 2005


Nancy Pelosi's Style as Leader: Admirable but Doomed? (Norman J. Ornstein, June 29, 2005, Roll Call)

Pelosi, an assertive leader determined to get her party back in the majority, has experienced years of frustration, facing a Republican Party that displayed awesome unity on issues ranging from appropriations to tax cuts to energy, operating with more closed and restrictive rules than at any period in our lifetimes and operating almost like a parliamentary majority. Pelosi has often been unable to muster the kind of cohesive opposition that Gingrich achieved in 1993-94.

She is determined to follow the Gingrich model, creating a genuine minority party that opposes, looks for ways to split the majority, highlights its failings and especially its scandals, condemns regularly its arrogance and its excesses of power, and finds ways to make the Republicans’ potentially vulnerable Members more vulnerable.

She has certainly been helped by the overreaching of the majority, its obtuseness on matters of ethics, its penchant for gratuitous humiliation of the minority--witness House Judiciary Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.)--and the emergence of cracks in its remarkable discipline, stemming from a second presidential term and a looming sixth-year midterm election.

Given the nature of our times, Pelosi is the kind of tough-minded and aggressive leader that an embattled minority needs. But such a leader must also show some perspective if the party is to offer any hope of winning seats that might be contestable and that could add up to a majority. That means picking battles carefully and showing sensitivity to the party’s image with voters.

Some issues require a party whip and strict discipline--prescription drugs was one, and the budget is another. Democrats who abandoned the party on these issues were remarkably obtuse. But bankruptcy reform, which is not a key bottom-line party priority, and one on which many Democrats differed from the leader, was not in the same league. Ostracizing Democrats who voted for that bill was not a wise way to build the party’s base. And I say this even though I think the bankruptcy bill was deeply flawed.

Balance also means erasing or at least ameliorating the Democrats’ weakness with voters on national security and homeland security issues. Like it or not, the American public does not see Democrats as sufficiently tough in the era after Sept. 11, 2001. In the vast bulk of potential swing seats that Democrats need to flip, including those once occupied by Blue Dogs, these larger security issues matter a lot.

But there is a real risk that Pelosi’s own instincts on these issues will serve more to reinforce the image of weakness for Democrats than reduce it, and indeed may reinforce a confrontational, partisan approach on the sensitive questions of America’s role in the world at a time when more Americans want Congress to come together to confront larger threats.

Mr. Ornstein, though a partisan Democrat, is one of those who prattles on endlessly about how the Hill is too politicized and rancorous these days. Notice though that he doesn't expect Ms Pelosi to actually help pass any legislation? Even as a minority leader Newt Gingrich was instrumental on issues like free trade, where neither NAFTA nor GATT would have passed without him. Is there no good that Democrats can do for the country by working with the Presiudent?

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 29, 2005 4:10 PM

They can sharpen the contradictions.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at June 29, 2005 4:20 PM

When they were the minority, Gingrich and crew confronted the majority with specific alternatives and unique proposals. They had an agenda of concrete particulars and contested on the basis of them. Pelosi and company have no such alternative program to propose, and are left with only posing and striking defiant attitudes. They could produce such an alternative agenda, but it would horrify and alienate the population, and they are clever enough to hold back. But this creates frustration, rage, and personal turmoil in the caucus. Hnece the recourse to splenitic outbursts. They are locked in a cycle of frustration and impotence. Ornstein is just giving then thorazine.

Posted by: Luciferous at June 29, 2005 5:03 PM

nancy pelosi is a hack despite orrenstein's fine words to the contrary. he condemns her without knowing it

Posted by: cjm at June 29, 2005 5:47 PM

Ornstein is the perfect "conservative" for the NewsHour, which I may now watch. He's from the neo-conservative American Enterprise Institute. See?

Posted by: Brent at June 29, 2005 6:02 PM

Pelosi won her position because she can raise money. She is the House equivalent of Howard Dean (at least in theory).

Even 10 years ago, Martin Frost would have become House Minority Leader (with Gephardt's retirement). But with the rise of Clintonism ($$$), and the ascendency of the hard left, Pelosi was a shoo-in. Just think, Conyers, Rangel, Waxman, and George Miller are ranking members of important House committees. I think Pete Stark is, too. The Democrats used to keep these guys out on the edges - but now they are the core. The GOP certainly was not like that in 1993.

Posted by: jim hamlen at June 29, 2005 6:23 PM

We'll use my largest scales...

Posted by: sir bedevere at June 30, 2005 1:44 AM