Here is the editorial, in full:
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.
There is an obvious contradiction in logic here: If what House Democrats need now is bold championship of the Obama administration’s legislative agenda, as opposed to what the Times rightly views as Obama’s timidity and reluctance to stand up for his own ideals in the face of Republican intransigence, then why would they want to jettison the boldest, most fearless champion for the liberal Democratic conscience that that party has ever had?
Greg Sargent does an excellent job making this point:
As you know, a lot of people have been arguing that Nancy Pelosi is a bad choice for minority leader because she prevailed over major losses in the House, she’s not a natural communicator, she’s deeply unpopular, and she’d represent the face of unrepentant liberalism. Today’s much-discussed New York Times editoral opposing her candidacy hits on some of these arguments.
But all 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 in 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 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.
The key thing to understand is that we’re about to enter a period of brusing 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.
Sargent checked his perceptions against those of a leading movement conservative (Norm Ornstein at the American Enterprise Institute):
and he confirmed the above reading of her role to me. He allowed that Pelosi had made some missteps — moving on cap and trade before health care, and failing to adequately sell the stimulus.But he dismissed the idea that Dem losses last week are relevant, insisting that the new minority leader’s chief role will be to “hold the line against repeal and keep the troops together and use the limited weapons available to the minority to put the Republicans on the defensive.”
“She’s in a stronger position to do that than others,” Ornstein continued. “She showed in the last two years how strong she is as a strategist and she may very well be able to use that strategic capaity to exacerbate some of the schisms that Republicans already have. She understands at least as well as anyone else how to use the process.”
Time‘s Mark Halperin — NOT exactly a Democratic or liberal cheerleader — agrees:
… For more than half a decade, [Pelosi] consistently displayed toughness and a gift for intraparty consensus-building. Before Tuesday, almost without fail, she accomplished her party’s main goals.
In 2005 and 2006, Pelosi’s job was to recapture the House majority, and she did that. In 2007 and 2008, her job was to use her historic role as the nation’s first female Speaker to create an issues contrast with Republicans and help get a Democrat elected to succeed George W. Bush. She also did that. In 2009 and 2010, her job was to navigate the ideological and geographic shoals of her caucus to fulfill the major legislative agenda of an ambitious new President, while accommodating the requirements of the more centrist forces in the U.S. Senate. She did that too.
Along the way, Pelosi proved yet again that she is one of the best fundraisers in the country’s history, inspiring both the party’s grass roots and major donors. She reliably made fools out of those who underestimated her.
In the aftermath of the midterm elections, as Democrats search for a revival path, more than a few believe that the answer to the party’s problems isn’t to abandon their message and bend to Republican demands but to stand up and fight whenever they feel that the new House majority is acting against the interests of middle-class families and in favor of corporate special interests. Pelosi’s supporters maintain she has demonstrated that she can capably challenge the GOP and protect her party’s core principles. She has beaten Republicans twice before, suggesting she can beat them again. Pelosi loyalists believe she has earned the right to stay on as the top Democrat in the House if that is what she wants to do.