Speaker of note, icon of power

2010-11-13 16:43

I like fighters. I especially like intelligent, women fighters and Nancy Pelosi certainly fits that bill.

The savvy, gutsy Speaker has announced her intention to run for Minority Leader in the next Congress, and I hope the Democrats get their act together and elect her.

Pelosi knew exactly what she wanted to accomplish as Speaker and she laid that agenda out clearly when I interviewed her in July 2008.

Her three priority pieces of legislation were “jobs, healthcare and energy”.

And that’s just what a politically diverse House (of Representatives) Democratic caucus pulled off under her progressive leadership.

It passed a healthcare bill that included a public option, and taxed the wealthy rather than workers’ benefits.

And when the bill looked all but dead no one fought harder to revive it than she did.

It passed a larger stimulus bill than the Senate and bolder jobs bills. And it passed an energy bill that capped carbon.

In all, more than 400 House bills weren’t even voted on by a meek Senate strait-jacketed by the filibustering Republicans and enough conservative Democratic accomplices.

Pelosi always seemed to know exactly who she was fighting for.

Her judgment is good: exit polls suggest Democrats would have fared far better this election if they had followed her lead and made job creation a priority.

“My view in politics is deeply rooted in how I was raised in politics. It’s all about economics,” she told me.

“They are sucking the money out of the middle class to the advantage of the wealthiest people in our country.

This is like a 100 years ago, the Gilded Age, and everything that went with that in terms of unfairness to working families.

I think there is that much at risk. We have to respect industries in our country, but they cannot call the shots about what we’re going to do about global warming, about healthcare, about fairness in our economy.”

Pelosi never underestimated the political risks of her aggressive agenda but didn’t let that stop her.

She told The Nation’s Christopher Hayes that Washington DC is “the city of the perishable. When you got the vote, you take the vote”.

But one thing she didn’t count on was a monolithic Party of No in the Senate.

Like President Barack Obama, she seemed to have some faith that there would be reasonable people across the aisle.

?“They’ll have to search hard and long for some Republicans who will want to stand in the way of progress,” she told me. But she got that wrong.

And as a result, there is little appreciation for the legislation Pelosi managed to advance – legislation which would have moved the US forward and possibly preserved a Democratic majority in the House.

Instead she is now being pilloried by all the right people – from the Tea Party to the Blue Dogs to the Republican rank-and-file.

The Republicans spent about R344?million attacking her in the run-up to the mid-terms. And too many politicians from both parties have a problem with the woman who shattered the “marble ceiling” of the US Capitol and became an icon of female power.

Opportunistic corporate Democrats want a party that is Republican-lite and they are using the mid-term results to try to move in that direction.

But if the Democrats want to give the American people a real choice when it comes to governing – then this woman who doesn’t quit (in contrast to former Alaska governor Sarah Palin) is the right choice.

As Congress returns for its lame duck session, Pelosi can show her moxie by fighting for a standalone extension of the middle-class tax cuts with no compromise on allowing the (president George W) Bush tax cuts for the wealthy to expire.

She’d also be wise to expose Republican hypocrisies – like simultaneous demands for budget cuts and increased spending on an already bloated defence budget.

As the Republican Party reveals its agenda that is 80% indictment and 20% plan, Pelosi would be ready to strike as Minority Leader.

Remember, this is the same woman who spoke out against the Iraq War resolution at a time when such a stand was considered political suicide for anyone with party leadership ambitions.

She would also be a savvy strategist as the Democrats work to hold the line against Republican efforts to repeal healthcare and financial reform.

Let the Blue Dogs whimper all they want to, their caucus will be dwarfed by the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) in the next Congress.

The CPC with Pelosi as leader has the potential to draw sharp lines of contrast with the Republicans, expose conservative catering to corporate interests, and pursue an inside-outside strategy with progressive groups to help define the direction for this next rough period.

Congressman George Miller called Pelosi “one of the toughest people in politics today” who “accomplished more than any other Speaker in history”.

It’s that toughness and proven leadership that the Democrats – and this country – need now.

» Vanden Heuvel is the editor and publisher of The Nation magazine. Copyright © 2010 The Nation – distributed by Agence Global

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