Today is Nancy Pelosi’s 70th birthday. I want to publically wish her many happy returns, and thank her once again for her dedicated public service. America is truly fortunate that good people like Pelosi are willing to make the sacrifice that electoral office entails, especially on the national level where so many are forced to spend time far from friends and family.
While I’m here, I also want to take the opportunity to defend Pelosi from a couple of the worst attacks she has suffered from the Left. (Those from the Right are expected, and someone as emotionally strong as Pelosi can just shrug them off. Misrepresentations from those who should be her allies are harder to bear, even for the toughest person, and so deserve rebuttal.)
Pelosi is not without her weaknesses. Like most decent people, she expects others to act primarily with decency. Even after long years in politics she is still surprised when people, especially those with a public trust, act duplicitously. As an intelligent person, one who is thoughtful and deliberate and cautious in word and deed, she also expects others to share those attributes and is often shocked when they do not.
These weaknesses leave her especially exposed when dealing with the cutthroat ruthlessness and haphazard morality of the modern mainstream media. When speaking, she is careful and thorough. That style does not generate the sort of catch-phrase sound-bites today’s MSM depends on, since they have abandoned any sort of analytical capacity. The result is that reporters will take one or two lines out of context and use them to gin up storylines and controversy where none exists. It is a terrible trap; the more careful she is, the more cautious and thoughtful, the greater the misrepresentations become.
As a for-instance: “They are advocates, we are leaders.”
This widely reported statement inflamed many on the Left, who took it as derogatory. It was reported by the duplicitous Dana Milbank, as arch and catty a Villager as any in the MSM, in an article he published about an hour-long lunch Pelosi took with the press. From that entire hour, Milbank reported little of what Pelosi actually said. Rather he castigated her appearance, calling her big smile a “grinning maw” and saw some sort of significance in her failure to eat either the chicken entrée or her desert, in his mind a sure sign she was secretly unhappy and therefore the smiles were all false.
That as a politician she might have eaten all the rubber chicken she ever wants, that maybe she didn’t think the desert was worth the calories, and the simple fact that it is very difficult to converse with a full mouth, didn’t enter Milbank’s list of options. He painted her as somehow derelict in not eating, when in fact she skipped her lunch so as to be fully available to answer any and all queries.
Milbank’s essay is a hit piece, nothing less. From that full hour he offers mostly one-or-two-word out-takes, snippets that he then puts in context himself; the section on “advocates-leaders” is one of only two where he reports full paragraphs, the other being some commentary she made on political strategy that he tries to spin as somehow an embarrassment. Every paragraph he wrote drips with sarcasm and denigration of Pelosi, and the relatively trivial matter of anti-Bush advocates that had been camped on Pelosi’s front stoop for five months is the dominant part of his presentation, designed precisely to stir up discord on the Left. Positioned in paragraphs two through seven, as though it held some momentous import for the nation or the world, he devotes 290 words to whipping up and furthering what has been an incessant effort by the VRWC-owned media to fracture Liberal alliances.
Pelosi’s statement was simply factual. Advocates, such as the Code Pink demonstrators obstructing the sidewalk and trespassing in her garden, can (and should be able to) say whatever they want without much regard for broader context or consequence. Fiercely advocating a position is both honorable and defensible, even when the position advocated is singular and without nuance. For someone in Pelosi’s position, however, as not just a political leader but holder of a high constitutional office, nuance and consequence are extremely important and however strongly she may feel about one particular agenda item she must also balance that position with the need to govern effectively and not get so bogged down in defending one position that she abandons any hope of advancing others.
Advocates and leaders each have an important role to play, and Pelosi not only acknowledged that, she defended the advocate’s “passion.” While she disagreed with their position that the goal of impeachment and ending the wars trumps all others, she has done nothing to inhibit or punish those who are demonstrating against her even when they break the law. Nancy Pelosi isn’t opposed to demonstrators demonstrating, including those who are her fiercest critics, but you’d never know it from Milbank’s report in which he claims her seriousness on the issue is actually an expression of “fierce” and “seething” “soured spirits.”
What is most striking to me is that here was a chance to sit down in a free-ranging discussion with the first female Speaker of the House, an extraordinary person of historic significance, and all Milbank could find to report – and presumably ask about – were political gotchas. The man is an embarrassment to the profession of journalism, and this type of screed from him and his ilk should always be treated as suspect by the Left.
Now about that Bush impeachment demand, which Pelosi famously declared was “off the table.” Many people on the Left, including me, disagreed with that decision at the time. Since then, due in large measure to the unarguable success of the Democratic Party in unseating absolute Radical Reactionary control of both Congress and the Presidency for the first time in 30 years and also as a result of numerous conversations with elected officials whom I trust and respect, I’ve been persuaded that she made the right choice. Not necessarily a “good” choice, mind you, but arguably the “least worst” choice.
There is no doubt that an impeachment inquiry would have paralyzed governance, precluding the very real progressive legislation Pelosi was able to advance in its absence. It also would likely have inflamed and activated those on the Right who would otherwise have been dispirited, making election of a responsible Conservative Democratic president instead of another reckless Radical Reactionary Republican more problematical.
But the biggest issues were whether or not an impeachment effort would be even marginally successful, and what the consequences would be to either failure or success.
Given the slim Democratic majority in the House, and the strong alliance existing between many BlueDog Democrats and the Republican membership, it was not at all clear that even with evidence of criminality that the House would vote to impeach. If Bush’s wrongs were exposed in hearings and the impeachment vote failed, the effect would be to legitimize his actions. Even if the House approved impeachment Articles, it was even less likely that the Senate would vote to convict. Bush’s history of stubborn intransigence argued that, unlike Nixon, he would have stayed in office and dared the Congress to do its worst. Again, a successful impeachment with a failed conviction would have legitimized Bush’s actions.
But successful impeachment and conviction would have only resulted in the assumption of power by President Cheney, and Pelosi feared that outcome most of all. Bush was an effective tool of the VRWC, but Cheney was its chief architect. Squatting in the Vice President’s office, pushing Bush into one reckless national endangerment after another, he was dangerous enough; with his hand on the nuclear arsenal, he could have been cataclysmically so.
The other scenario proposed, impeaching Cheney first, would have if successful created yet another constitutional crisis. Bush would have immediately nominated a successor, likely someone so outrageous that no one would want in the Oval Office. Could the Democratic-controlled Senate have resisted that nomination, while at the same time the Democratic-controlled House assembled an impeachment indictment against Bush? Would that same obstructionist Senate have then voted for conviction, installing the Democrat Pelosi as president in what both the rest of the world and history would surely characterize as a bloodless coup?
Personally, I was all for it. But then I am not an elected representative, and I do not carry their responsibilities. Many good people have since convinced me that the last scenario, Bush and Cheney both out of office and Pelosi installed as president, could never have happened and that anything short of that would have been a greater disaster than allowing the democratic process to play out in the next election. While I find it hard to set aside my thoughts, I do agree that they tended towards the romantic and that more cautious position may have been the correct one.
History will make the judgment, and at this point I am content with that. The whole notion of a representative democracy is that the elected representatives should make the decisions for the rest of us. Sometimes they do so incorrectly, and at the very least we have the opportunity to turn them out of office. That is what has happened, in both the presidency and the Congress, and so the system however slowly has functioned as intended. Pelosi’s decision, to take impeachment “off the table”, may turn out to be one of the wisest of her tenure as Speaker. It certainly wasn’t worth castigating her character over, as there is no evidence that her decision was driven by anything other than a legitimate concern for the good of the nation as a whole.
Protests against Pelosi will continue, and that is a good thing; people’s legitimate concerns should be voiced, and I commend those who do so in a civil way and at the risk of arrest. The struggle for effective and progressive governance is only slightly eased since Democrats took control, since the alignment of BlueDogs with Radical Reactionary Republicans continues on many issues and is especially strong in the Senate. Pelosi’s dual role, as constitutional officer and political leader, will continue to place her in conflict with both her personal desires and those of many on the Left – including, sometimes, me.
What will not change are her basic decent character and her dogged determination to do the best job she can given the real restrictions she faces. The assurance that she will do so is what drives her re-election each term with overwhelming margins, not by some Podunk backwater district but by the people of San Francisco, easily the most sophisticated, most cosmopolitan, most diverse and most liberal city in America, if not the entire world. We aren’t idiots out here, even though the press likes to paint us that way. If Pelosi weren’t the real deal, she would not be retained.
A bit more on that Leader designation, while I think about it.
In the days leading up to the recent big House health insurance reform vote, Threats of violence were made by the Teabag idiots along with Formerly Many Things Sarah Palin and a whole host of RightWing radio and TV mouthpieces. Teabag protestors called US Representative John Conyers a nigger to his face, US Representative Emanuel Cleaver was spat on, and US Representative Barney Frank was called a faggot to his face. In defiance, after the last pre-vote caucus meeting Speaker Pelosi gathered together the entire Democratic House leadership and taking her place front and center, an arm linked in solidarity with Conyers and carrying the oversized gavel that had been used to rule over the enactment of Medicare and Medicaid, she marched across the public space in front of a seething cauldron of deranged and dangerous teabaggers.
This is what leadership looks like:
[Links to other birthday wishes: