Should Nancy Pelosi continue to lead the House Democrats?

I’ve never been a joiner.  I don’t much like being labeled, and if any political philosophy suits me, it’s that of Ralph Waldo Emerson:

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds,” he wrote, “adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.”

But one “ism” that I have long espoused — despite its occasional detours into academic tomfoolery — is feminism.

I’m convinced that the liberation and empowerment of women in American society is one of the truly novel and extraordinary things that sets us apart, and defines our greatness.

The rise of women into positions of independence and influence has made us a better, more equal and just society.  It’s also made us more prosperous.

It is also, remarkably, one of the things we all generally agree upon.  A century ago, women couldn’t vote.  Their legal rights were curtailed. They were barred from many professions.

Now, there is a substantial unity around the idea that women are and should be treated as equals.

That’s not to say that women receive the same pay for the same work, or share equal power with men.  But those things are coming.  Indeed, among young men and women, it’s the guys who appear to be falling behind.

I say all this as a preamble to the awkward debate over the future of former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Pelosi rose to the highest political position a woman has ever achieved in America.  In that role, she pushed through historic legislation, the healthcare bill and the first serious effort to confront climate change.

She also presided over the most scandal-free Congress in recent memory.  (Yes, there was some garden variety misbehavior, but nothing to compare with Abramoff-era corruption.)

Her personal conduct, when contrasted with that of, say, Newt Gingrich, was exemplary.

In the end, I’m convinced that much of the backlash that she faced was because of her gender.

Here in the North Counry, the tea party movement liked to portray her in bridal dress and gown, as the spouse of Democratic Rep. Bill Owens.

Conservatives like to caricature her as a pinch-faced harridan, a wicked witch from San Francisco, from the part of America that’s not “real.”

But the other truth about Nancy Pelosi is that she is a brittle and awkward personality, at least in public, with almost no capacity to connect with the American people.

There was a time when House Speakers (or minority leaders, for that matter) could get away with her kind of stiffness.  They were backroom dealers, fixers, and legislative architects.  But no more.

We live in an age of 24/7 cable, of intimate chat shows.

When John Boehner, the new Republican speaker, starts weeping on election night, talking passionately about his working class childhood, it goes viral.  It lifts his party.

I understand that women still face hurdles and very serious double-standards on this front.  How would we react if Pelosi started weeping?  Not very well, I imagine.

But in the end, Pelosi’s deficits as a communicator, as someone incapable of voicing the vision and passion of her party, go beyond gender.

In his speech Tuesday night, Boehner laid out a sweeping portrait of a better America.  The goals are clear, even if the policy ideas and the budget math remain pretty fuzzy.

I can’t remember a single moment from Pelosi’s four-year tenure when she offered the same, Shining City on the Hill, aspirational view of America’s future.

I can’t remember a single moment during the darkest days of the recession when Pelosi seemed to be connecting personally and viscerally with the suffering of the people she helped to govern.

The truth is that Pelosi has earned her place in our history books, as a pioneering woman and a pioneering lawmaker.

But it’s hard to see her as the right leader for a Democratic Party that desperately needs to find some heart and soul.


18 Comments on “Should Nancy Pelosi continue to lead the House Democrats?”

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  1. Mervel says:

    Combine her with Reid and you really don’t have inspiring leadership for that party.

  2. oa says:

    Brian, If Pelosi wept like Boehner, how do you think that would have worked out for her? And why do Boehner and Glenn Beck get honored for crying at the drop of a hat? I thought they were part of the manly, tough-guy America, part of the Daddy Party.

  3. What you seem to be looking for is charisma. Reagan had it, Clinton had it, but I don’t see anyone in Washington right now that has it. I’ll settle for intelligence and reason.

  4. Pete Klein says:

    I vote for Nancy to remain and maybe get back the Speaker job in two years.
    As to Man Tan crying, I’ve never been much for anyone crying, men or women. Crying should be limited to when someone you love dies.
    I go with James above. We need intelligence and reason because I’m not so sure there is much difference between charisma and the Cheshire cat.

  5. joe says:

    NO NO NO

  6. Roy W. says:

    I am not a big Pelosi fan per se, and yet your comments about Congress, with her as speaker, not having the scandals of previous ones, nor, even as rumors start about a presidentail run by Newt in 2 years, did she have sex with her intern(s) at her desk or elsewhere, I wonder what values do we really seek from our leaders? Or do we care about them at all? Are we okay with “adulterers” (cheaters) in power as long as we have jobs, prosperity, and feel secure? Can we get dynamic and charismatic leadership without the egotistical weakness that often goes hand in hand with it?

    Anyway, I want to say thanks for pointing out something about Nancy Pelosi that endears me to her, regardless about my “personal” impression, she has been speaker and remained upright in light of the power she wielded and that is an accomplishment that we would do well to applaud her for in this day and age regardless of anything else.

  7. Bret4207 says:

    I have zero issue with women in positions of leadership. If they are qualified and held to the same standards as men then all is well and good. Pelosi’s tenure was not scandal free however, it’s just that the press gave her a pass. When the Speaker of the House is on record instructing Catholic Church Priests to preach her doctrine from the pulpit, to sell her ideas, that’s a clear violation of the separation of church and state. Nancy got a pass on that. A right wing male would not have ever gotten a pass on anything like that. Do you recall the hue and cry over Bushs faith based initiatives? What’s right is right and whats wrong is wrong. Just because it’s a Democrat woman doesn’t excuse wrong doing.

    She has her place in history. If the Dems choose to keep her that’s their business. Were it me, I’d choose someone with a personality that is a bit more appealing. As with Barbara Boxers “…call me Senator…” quip, what is said and how it comes across is rather important to voters and the public in general. Fawning media attention and “tingles up my leg” will hide poor qualities only for so long.

  8. Brian says:

    “When the Speaker of the House is on record instructing Catholic Church Priests to preach her doctrine from the pulpit, to sell her ideas, that’s a clear violation of the separation of church and state.”

    But wait? My conservative friends keep telling me that there is no such thing as the separation of church and state.

    In some ways, I think Pelosi is the perfect leader for a Democratic Party that has no ideas, no vision and is as subservient to corporate cash as the Republicans they love to demonize. Republicans may have awful ideas but Democrats have no ideas. And in politics, something, no matter how awful, almost always beats nothing.

    But Brian M is right. House Speaker is no longer a behind the scenes position. It’s as much a PR position as a nuts and bolts legislative one. The issue is, if she goes, who could sell the party’s non-agenda better?

  9. Bret4207 says:

    That would be a good discussion Brian, but the point is that Democrats have been screaming about the “religious right” bridging the church-state separation and demanding such things as banning the word “Christmas” from school holiday presentations, yet the head honcho of the Dem does exactly what the Dems have been saying shouldn’t be done AND gets a pass on it. Were that done by a right winger that would be a scandal.

    And to head off the Democrat cowboys at the pass, that’s not right wing victimhood, that’s left wing hypocrisy.

  10. Jack says:

    You’ve not convinced me that the backlash Pelosi received was the result of her gender. If gender motivations are powerful, then perhaps you can explain how the biggest boys club in the nation – the US Congress – elected her Speaker in the first place. Are you suggesting that enlightened Dem lawmakers are above such considerations but “average” Americans are not? Putting her election as Speaker aside, are you also suggesting that the opposition to President Obama is racially motivated? The reason I ask is because you’re making an essentialist argument about Pelosi and I’m curious how far it extends? If you do believe that Obama’s detractors are motivated by his race, I’d like to read what you have to say on this question.

    I think it’s pretty clear that Pelosi & the Dems lost because of their ideas – plain and simple. I suggest, as a Monday morning Quarterback, that the Ds should’ve pushed for banking reform before the stimulus, health care, and energy bills.

  11. Pete Klein says:

    I think you were referring to when Nancy Pelosi urged Catholic leaders to “instruct” their parishioners to support immigration reforms.
    Seems like a reasonable request when you consider how the Catholic Bishops are always threatening Catholics with eternal damnation unless they vote for candidates who are opposed to abortion and in favor of stem cell research.
    No, they don’t tell you who to vote for. They just say you will go to Hell if you vote for anyone who is not opposed to abortion.
    Pelosi was the target because she was not the half black president.

  12. Bret4207 says:

    Pete, was Newt or Trent Lott in the church urging the Priests to “instruct” their parishioners to become anti- abortion?

  13. scratchy says:

    I think Pelosi showed a lot of courage when she opposed the Iraq War while other Democratic leaders were tripping over themselves to support it.

  14. hermit thrush says:

    obviously no speaker (or politician of any kind) is going to be perfect. but i think that by the standards of things, pelosi was a terrific speaker and i’m going to really miss her.

  15. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    I really hate it when Americans get all self-congratulatory about how far women have come in our society and how very nearly equal to men.

    The fact is that women have gone to higher office in dozens of Islamic nations, in Latin America, in Israel, in India. Women had greater stature in 13th century Mongolian society.

    On the other hand, Nancy Pelosi is obviously more of a man that Mr. Cry-Baby.

  16. Pete Klein says:

    I have no idea. I never heard of the Pelosi comment until you mentioned it. Do I agree with what she said? No. Just pointing out I don’t think the Bishops should be suggesting anything when it comes to how anyone votes. It’s bad enough listening to the politicians. The Bishops shouldn’t do what any politician tells them to do or say and I don’t listen to the Bishops when it comes to voting.
    If I understand the teachings of Jesus, I don’t think he would be patting anyone on the back for their political views or the laws they want to pass.

  17. Bret4207 says:

    Good enough Pete, it’s just the double standard that drives me nuts.

    Knuck, why do guys cry after winning the big game? Why do WW2 vets choke up talking about Normandy? I don’t care to watch people cry and don’t like it when I find myself tearing up over an emotional event, but sometimes it’s a reaction to stress.

  18. Pete Klein says:

    I’ll reluctantly admit to becoming a bit teary eyed from time to time. That music at the end of the movie “Platoon” always gets to me. The story too. But then I think of the line from another Viet Nam movie, Hamburger Hill, where Motown is always saying, “It don’t mean nothing, man. Not a thing,” and I suck it up.

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