Why Nancy Pelosi Should Be House Minority Leader

There’s a movement afoot to give Nancy Pelosi the boot, to remove her as Democratic leader in the House. Even the Times has gotten in on the action, editorializing (somewhat persuasively):

Nancy Pelosi has been an extremely effective speaker of the House for four years, shepherding hundreds of important bills toward passage and withstanding solid Republican opposition. Her work in passing health care reform and strong ethics oversight achieved what many thought was legislatively impossible. But is she really the best the Democrats can come up with as their leader as they slip into the minority.

Ms. Pelosi announced on Friday that she would seek the post of House minority leader. That job is not a good match for her abilities in maneuvering legislation and trading votes, since Democrats will no longer be passing bills in the House. What they need is what Ms. Pelosi has been unable to provide: a clear and convincing voice to help Americans understand that Democratic policies are not bankrupting the country, advancing socialism or destroying freedom.

If Ms. Pelosi had been a more persuasive communicator, she could have batted away the ludicrous caricature of her painted by Republicans across the country as some kind of fur-hatted commissar jamming her diktats down the public’s throat. Both Ms. Pelosi and Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, are inside players who seem to visibly shrink on camera when defending their policies, rarely connecting with the skeptical independent voters who raged so loudly on Tuesday.

With President Obama proving to be a surprisingly diffident salesman of his own work, Congressional Democrats need a new champion to stand against a tightly disciplined Republican insurgency.

I don’t buy it. While Pelosi certainly deserves some of the blame for the Democrats’ loss of the House, and is certainly not a great communicator, she shouldn’t be held up as the scapegoat for a loss that was unavoidable given the state of the economy, widespread anti-incumbent sentiment, and Democrats having to defend many largely Republican districts after their ’06 and ’08 “wave” wins, among other factors.

Now, I realize that the Times is actually praising Pelosi as a legislator. Its argument is that she just isn’t right to lead the opposition, which requires communications skills that she doesn’t seem to possess.

But I’m not sure that’s really what’s needed of the House minority leader. After all, Democrats should be able to communicate their policies and principles, and to advance their own narratives, from the White House and the Senate — yes, yes, lest we forget, given how the midterms are being spun far and wide as an unmitigated triumph for the GOP, that the Democrats were not only not obliterated (“shellacking” is the popular word) but are actually still in power.

On what is needed in the House, Greg Sargent, contra the Times, makes a great point:

[A]ll this seems to badly miss what one of the most important roles of the new minority leader will be: to draw a very sharp line against GOP efforts to roll back Obama’s accomplishments.

This task could matter at least as much for the new minority leader as communications or presenting a new face for the party. And while Pelosi clearly has a negative and polarizing image, few would argue that she hasn’t succeeded at building coalitions and maintaining unity at moments of extreme political stress — exactly what she’ll need to do if she’s going to hold the line against repeal efforts.

He continues:

The key thing to understand is that we’re about to enter a period of bruising procedural wars — precisely the type of thing that Pelosi has already excelled at. Republicans are already discussing ways to starve the new health-care law by, say, limiting funding to agencies that would implement portions of it or using spending bills to block federal insurance regulations they don’t like. The next minority leader will have to be ruthless in her willingness to use procedural tactics to combat this kind of stuff.

So why not Pelosi, who has a strong record of standing up for liberal-progressive policies and principles and against the determined partisanship of those across the aisle?

The midterms, after all, were not a rejection of liberalism, nor of the Democrats’ agenda — even if this is what Republicans (and many in the media) would have us believe. On the issues, the Democrats remain popular, or at least their policies do. The Republicans have no mandate to govern, and Democrats certainly weren’t given a mandate to move to the center. To the contrary, the poor performance of Blue Dogs suggests that the party should reject appeasement and commit itself to a liberal-progressive agenda that embraces what they’ve done so far, including health-care reform, and seeks to bring meaningful change to America.

In other words, there is simply no mandate for someone like Blue Dog Heath Shuler to take over the party in the House.

I’ve never been a huge Pelosi fan, but there’s no denying the success she had as speaker, not least in keeping a rather disunited party together, and, with Republicans itching for a fight, she may just be the best person for the job.

(Cross-posted from The Reaction.)

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