Recently, Politico gave me a double take. Rep. Bobby Bright, the Democratic congressman from Alabama, announced that he will not support Nancy Pelosi for Speaker if the Democrats hold onto Congress this year. But although Bright is the first Democrat to openly state that he will vote against Pelosi, politicians across the country have already started running from her. With their backs to the wall, Democrats campaign by trumpeting their independence from Pelosi and her agenda. Meanwhile, the GOP parades Pelosi around the country like a comic-book villain. My conservative friends and family paint her as a hyper-partisan woman who has rammed her “liberal Californian agenda” down the throats of Americans. Her own party stays quiet, out of fear of association. For Yalies getting ready to cast their midterm ballots, the Pelosi problem could make an impact.
Perhaps it’s worth reminding those Democrats distancing themselves from Pelosi that, in 2008, a convincing majority of Americans voted for a President who, like her, supported progressive solutions to healthcare reform and the financial crisis. They elected that President by the largest margin in 20 years, and endowed Congress with a robust coalition of Democrats, as well as a heavy advantage in the Senate.
When the new Congress convened for the first time in Jan. 2009, Speaker Pelosi was re-elected. She had a reservoir of goodwill from her previous two years, and commanded a fresh caucus of Representatives who were hungry to make good on the promises they had made on the campaign trail. She didn’t take much limelight, and thus, didn’t polarize — at the time we were all fixated on the man, the myth, Obama.
Then, in face of united Republican opposition, she began doing her job: that is, passing progressive legislation. The reality is that Speaker Pelosi passed legislation that mirrors the electorate that launched her into power, and that may be the reason why she is unpopular.
The Speaker helped move an agenda that produced popular legislation like the economic stimulus, health care reform and financial regulation. She led the charge in passing a cap-and-trade bill, new regulations on credit card companies, and legislation supporting a woman’s right to equal pay for equal work.
Speaker Pelosi has one hell of a record. But this record of legislative accomplishments is plagued by dissatisfaction with the democratic coalition that mandated it — and now the Speaker is taking the blame.
Republicans always disapproved of the Speaker, independents saw the legislation as too liberal or ineffective, and many of the Democrats felt they had to compromise many of their ideal policies at the hands of a centrist Obama Administration and the coalition of Blue Dog Democrats.
The stimulus package is a good example. It was a large influx of spending employed to jumpstart the economy, but was too small for the likes of many liberals. It included hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts, which moderates and conservatives applauded; it spent hundreds of billions of dollars in public works, something they generally oppose. Similarly, though healthcare reform was widely supported by the 2008 coalition, the loss of the public option led to defections from liberals and moderates alike. Comprehensive energy reform was also popular, but the loosening of restrictions and benchmarks and the high cost of the cap-and-trade bill split the Democrats, sparking anger.
Meanwhile, other legislation was either killed or diluted in the Senate, most recently the overturn of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell where Democrats failed to garner the votes to overcome a Republican filibuster. Liberals (and many moderates) feel disappointed, while the opposition fosters its anger and energy.
But if you accept the platform that pushed Obama into office, the Pelosi speakership has been a tremendous success. I support the Speaker. Any Yalie who voted for the Democratic Congress or the President should vote in November to put politicians like her, and who value her commitment to Democratic causes, back in office. The worst action the 2008 coalition can take is to allow their dissonance to triumph, and to let progress wither.