Pelosi is King of the Hill; Washington Media are Queens of the Stone Age
I know, I know, it’s already last week’s news—Steny Hoyer thumped Jack Murtha to take the Majority Leader spot even though Speaker Nancy Pelosi “threw her weight” behind Murtha. The official, oft-repeated takeaway from this is that Pelosi “lost” her first battle.
The reason I’m adding my two cents is because after reading a treasure trove of post-mortems on this, I still come up a tuppence short of folding money.
Yes, Pelosi would have preferred to have Murtha than Hoyer as her number two—Murtha has been a loyal supporter of the Speaker since she rose to the top of the Democratic org chart. Hoyer, on the other hand, challenged Pelosi for the whip’s job way back when, and has been running around, mouthing off, trying to cut the legs out from under Pelosi ever since.
Pelosi supported and possibly encouraged Murtha’s public about-face on the Iraq war a year ago, and the “San Francisco Liberal” understands that the hawkish Murtha’s very public stance gave many others in the party the cover needed to express opposition to Bush’s folly. And Pelosi understands that she is now Speaker—rather than Minority Leader—because Democrats finally found their anti-war voices.
Hoyer, on the other hand, has never been a staunch critic of the occupation. At best, it could be said that Hoyer has “evolved” from a Lieberman-esque supporter of the president’s Iraq policy to a Hillary Clinton-like triangulation—not so much an opinion, as a verbal Rorschach test.
And, while Murtha is notoriously the Democrat’s king of earmarks, fiscal misallocations, and cozy corporate quid-pro-quos, Steny Hoyer is not that far behind. When it comes to this specific part of the ethics debate, the Jack vs. Steny battle is a wash. But in the battle for caucus votes, Hoyer, a consummate Hill insider, was always going to come out the winner—we all knew that, and we should all know that Pelosi knew that, too.
That is why this idea that the Speaker somehow mismanaged the fight for Majority Leader represents a substandard level of media analysis that surprises even me. Does anybody out there at the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, or NPR (or MaureenDowd, for that matter) really think that after all of her years in the party leadership, Nancy Pelosi doesn’t know how to count votes? She knew Murtha didn’t have the numbers, and that is exactly why she went public with her support—not just “public” as in “here’s a Democrat’s eyes only internal memo” public, but “public” as in “talking to me and you” public.
Rather than indicating weakness, by openly supporting Murtha, the guy all but pre-ordained to lose this fight, Nancy Pelosi was making a big statement about how powerful she is. Pelosi was signaling to all of the Democrats how much she values loyalty, and what she will do for those Representatives that demonstrate it. The Speaker made it clear that there might be some tough votes ahead, but if the members stood by her, she would publicly stand by them. By sticking her neck out for Murtha, Pelosi was saying to all of the House Democrats, “I’ve got your back.”
By taking one on the chin in the center of the ring, Speaker Pelosi revealed that she was strong enough and confident enough to work the corners. She knew she could afford to lose an early round toward the cause of winning the bigger fight.
Pelosi also demonstrated a level of political intelligence quite a bit more evolved than the previous regime. Rather than resorting to the heavy-handed, behind-the-scenes browbeating and arm twisting common in the era of Hastert and DeLay, this first female Speaker is taking a stab at leading from out in front—at inspiring loyalty rather than inspiring fear.
Heady stuff? Complex “strategery?” Too in touch with its feminine side? Maybe, maybe not. But, while I expected this to be too evolved for the Neanderthals of the Republican Party and their designated mouthpieces, I didn’t expect the rest of the veteran Hill watchers to also be stuck in the Stone Age.
Who are you going to believe, Adam Nagourney or Greg Sargent?
It’s election post-mortem time, and while Nagourney (with some help from his New York Times friends) spends dozens of column inches canonizing Rahm Emanuel and, to a lesser extent, Chuck Schumer, he gives all of a sentence over to Democratic National Committee Chair Howard Dean—and it’s not even a very nice sentence:
[Mr. Emanuel and Mr. Schumer] brought an unusual mix of fund-raising skills and understanding of political tactics, filling a void created when the party’s national chairman, Howard Dean, focused instead on building up the resources of the state parties in 50 states, rather than on the midterm elections.
The slight is exceptionally odd since, later in the same article, AdNags talks of how the GOP’s vaunted 72-hour GOTV machine was stretched thin by so many additional competitive races. Why is it that happened, you think? Was it because the DCCC originally wanted to focus all of its resources on what they saw as the fifteen most competitive races? (OK. Moving on then.)
The Times article also seems to credit Rep. Emanuel with forcing Iraq front and center this election cycle. Really? I do not mean this to take anything away from Rahm (though I am left to wonder why Emanuel’s public yell-fests are written up as heroic moments of intense dedication, while Dean’s temper is still derided and caricatured with references to “the scream”), but months before the point that Nagourney credits the head of the D-trip-C with pushing the war as a campaign issue, there were others in the party—many outside of the Beltway—that insisted on talking about Bush’s failures in Iraq.
Early on, anyone who suggested that Dems shouldn't be afraid to call for a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq or to oppose President Bush on wiretapping or torture was subjected to a steady stream of withering scorn from allegedly in-the-know pundits. Those who backed Ned Lamont's antiwar candidacy were dismissed by David Broder and others in the D.C. opinionmakers guild as crazy, extreme, beneath contempt. In one typical example last February, Marshall Wittman charged that opposition to Bush's warrantless wiretapping program showed that "the Democratic Party is increasingly under the influence of modern day McGovernites," warning: "Let's get serious."
In reality, it seems, it was guys like Lamont and his actually quite mainstream supporters (remember, a majority of Americans oppose the war) that changed the political landscape. It was when Lamont beat Lieberman in the August Connecticut primary that candidates and voters across the US suddenly seemed energized enough to confront the Republican conventional wisdom—and that’s when the Republican’s blinked.
In fact, if Sargent, Nagourney, and I were to agree on one thing, I would think (or hope, in AdNags’ case) that it would be that when the Democrats started to openly question the Republicans on their failed policy in Iraq, the Republicans retreated. When GOP strategists advised their candidates to avoid talking about the war, it left a void—a void that was filled by aggressive Democrats who wanted to talk about Iraq. The Democratic framing of the war (slowly) replaced the Republican one in the establishment media, and that, in turn, allowed for a more graphic, and, I would say, honest and realistic coverage of the downward spiral that had actually been happening for quite some time.
If all of us Democrats, from us purportedly idealist activists to those self-described realists, want to assimilate one teaching from the 2006 midterms, it should be vive la différence!
I have always been fond of saying that given a choice between a real Republican and an imitation one, most Americans will choose the real thing—after all, to look at it from a branding perspective, they were “first to market.” It has done none of us any good allowing Republicans to lay claim to any topic, be it war, or security, or even tax policy. To put it another way, the election of ’06 proved anything, it proved that the Republicans might (might, mind you) have an ideology, but we Democrats have ideas.
Right now, Republicans are in disarray—they’re shell shocked—even their Party’s chief gerbil and noisemaker, Ken Mehlman, is about to call it quits. We are presented with a momentous opportunity. There is a great void to be filled—in each and every district in each and every one of our 50 states—let’s fill it with ideas. New, Democratic, different ideas.
Faced with the prospect of having every pundit on every show talking all day about a Democratic victory, the collapse of the conservative movement, and the failure of the Karl Rove election strategy, George Bush marched out at 1pm Wednesday to regain control of the news cycle.
Suddenly, every news program, on TV and Radio, was talking about Bush, his decision process, and the relative qualifications of Rumsfeld’s replacement, Bush family farm hand (and former CIA director) Robert M. Gates.
My first reaction was one I often have when Bush brings in somebody “new”: Doesn’t this guy have any friends of his own?
Gates is a Daddy Bush retread—an aid to Scowcroft when he ran the NSC, DCI under B41, and now an underling to Bush Family fixer James Baker on this Iraq Study Group (also known as CYA4GWB). Prior to his current post as President of Texas A&M, Gates was Dean of the George Bush School of Government and Public Service, also at Texas A&M. Gates has the stink of Iran-Contra all over him, just like Bush 41, and is also suspected of having passed classified intelligence to Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war.
So, as you can see, he is the perfect guy to bring a fresh point of view to the current crisis.
My second thought was that this was clearly not something Bush and Rove just dreamed up this morning. Since Gates (who was previously Bush’s first choice for the DNI job now held by John Negroponte, but turned it down because he thought it was a needless level of bureaucracy) was on hand for his one o’clock roll-out, it is obvious his wooing had been in the works for weeks, and the final decision had to have been made several days ago (at least). So, as is always the case with this White House, the decision was not about foreign policy, or defense strategy, but about domestic PR. Bush/Rove could have announced this decision before the election (and might have even done his party some good by doing so), but instead decided to keep it in his vest pocket to pull out just when he needed it—and after the drubbing Team W took Tuesday, boy did he need it.
My third thought was, so this is why Deadeye Dick went hunting. Vice President Cheney can’t be happy that BFF Rumsfeld is being shown the door, and certainly didn’t look forward to having to comment on it. What better than to skulk off into the wilds of South Dakota (is it?), where a man can be a man with only his thoughts and a fully stocked SUV mini-bar to comfort him?
Thought four is that now task number one for the new Democratic majority in the Senate will be the confirmation of Bob Gates—something that, in spite of his slightly hinky past, will likely sail through. Is there a better way for beltway pundits to welcome in the era of divided government than with a “victory” for the President?
And now for my fifth thought: let’s stop talking about Bob Gates! I know, it’s not fair, I just got to have my say, but now that I have, I would like to try to focus on the new Democratic majority and their agenda for a hike in the minimum wage, real ethics reform, Congressional oversight of mis-, mal-, and nonfeasance—both foreign and domestic—a repeal of the Dungeons Act, and a rewriting of Medicare drug benefits so that they benefit Medicare recipients instead of Pharmaceutical companies.
I don’t mean to sound like a Pollyanna, but if we keep our eyes on the ball, maybe the Democrats we just sent to Congress will, too.
Lieberman has said (in so many words, usually) that he’ll caucus with the Democrats if returned to the Senate, but here’s what Joe said on Monday about his long journey from Democratic primary loser to Lieberman for Lieberman Party front-runner:
It's taken me as an independent-minded Democrat and really empowered me to be more independent
Just so we understand, since he used to be, nominally, a Democrat, when Joe says he’s going to be more independent, it means he’s going to tilt more often than he already has toward the Republicans. In a Senate filled with Democrats and Republicans, where Lieberman will theoretically owe whatever seniority he has to Democratic leadership, the independence Joe seeks to establish will be independence from Democrats. And unless Joe plans on abstaining from every yea or nay vote, and saying “no comment” in every interview, what will establish Lieberman as independent from Democrats will be votes for or with Republicans, and statements that either support President Bush and his party, or, at the very least, attack Democrats and their positions. (In fact, one very good reason to keep Lieberman out of Washington would be to keep him from clogging up the “Democrat” slot on the Sunday morning talk shows—maybe we could get some real Democratic positions articulated there instead.)
Lieberman is definitely, to my mind, signaling all of that, but I think he’s even hinting at more. I think Lieberman is laying the groundwork for yet another adventure in opportunism. Should the Democrats take five seats from Republicans in today’s elections, the Senate will be split 50-50. But with that divide, all ties will be broken by the Vice President, which means Republicans retain their functional majority for deciding things like committee chairmanships.
Now, it is no secret that, should Lieberman win on Tuesday, and should the Senate split be that close, Republicans will woo Joe Lieberman (who has already received baskets of cash from Republicans), either with a committee chairmanship as a reward for switching parties, or with the promise of the Secretary of Defense slot (should Bush drop his election season charade and move to head off a full-scale revolt by the military). If Lieberman were to take a cabinet post (likely the highest office he could ever hope to attain at this point in his career, and maybe his last shot at it), his vacant Senate seat would be filled by an appointee of the Governor of Connecticut (who, if the polls are correct, will be Republican Jodi Rell*), meaning Joe’s replacement will be an actual Republican.
In sum, if Joe Lieberman is elected to the Senate today, Connecticut, and America, will either get Lieberman acting like a Republican, Lieberman switching to be a Republican, or some other Republican.
Nobody wants that. Instead, if you live in the Nutmeg State, vote for Ned Lamont, the nominee of the Democratic Party. If you have friends or family in Connecticut, give them a call, and urge them to get out and vote for the Democrats—all of them, all of the real ones.
*I don’t want to slight the Democratic nominee for Governor of Connecticut, John DeStefano. DeStefano is head and shoulders a better choice than Governor Rell, and DeStefano was endorsed by both the Hartford Courant and the New Haven Register, but John has had trouble getting his message out because of all the noise generated by Lieberman’s insurgent run at the Senate. So add Jodi Rell to the list of Republicans Lieberman has helped.