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The Only Good Reason I Know for Dumping Pelosi is a Rotten One


You’ve probably heard that in the wake of Jon Ossoff’s loss in GA-06 there have been calls for Nancy Pelosi to step down from her position as leader of the Democrats in the House of Representatives.

If there is a good argument to be made that her actual work as Minority Leader is less than satisfactory, or even less than good, I wouldn’t know how to make it.

(I myself have only once opposed an important choice she made: that’s when she announced, right after the Democrats won a House majority in the 2006 election, that impeachment was “off the table” — this, concerning a president (W) who, until Trump, had probably committed half of the total of impeachable offenses committed by all presidents in the 200+-years of the history of the United States.)

When she was challenged at the beginnings of this new session, some of her colleagues praised her abilities — in dealing with the complex processes and battles of the House’s legislative process — with remarkably strong language. I was persuaded that she’s very good at her job. Could be wrong, but that’s the best of my knowledge.

Most of the case against Pelosi that I’ve heard concerns nothing that she has done or failed to do, but rather what the Republicans manage to do with the image of her that they’ve created.

Ossoff lost, in part, because of a wave of negative ads that Republican money financed to tar Ossoff with every bogeyman the right-wing propagandists have cultivated in the minds of their followers.

Among those images that Republican voters have been trained to hate was that of Nancy Pelosi. A vote for Ossoff, they were supposed to believe, was a vote for the terrible Pelosi and her contemptible San Francisco values.

So the case against Pelosi’s continued leadership is that she is such a handy demon to tie every Democratic candidate to, and the Republican base will respond in Pavlovian fashion by salivating with the urge to bite any Democratic candidate’s head off.

But here is the one good argument that can be rescued from this “case” against Pelosi: the GOP has been demonizing her for so long, the neural trails in GOP brains to connect Pelosi’s name and face with fear and loathing run deep.

(In this, Pelosi’s problem is much like Hillary Clinton’s: after a quarter of a century of being demonized, Hillary was so intensely loathed by some Republicans that even if they saw what a terrible person Trump was, surely he must be better than the she-devil Hillary!)

So a replacement for Hillary would enter the scene with a degree of innocence of image that Pelosi will never be able to recover.

I say it is a “good” argument, because there is at least something to it. But it is also rotten, in that it concedes to the Republicans their attempts to assassinate a very capable Democratic leader.

Besides being rotten in that way, this case for dumping Pelosi doesn’t look very strong as a solution to whatever problems the Democrats have. (And I do not believe it is clear that Ossoff’s loss is any powerful warning signal for the Democrats.)

For one thing, the Republicans — never hampered by any respect for truth or fairness — are never at a loss for bogus images to evoke hatred and fear in their followers. Ossoff himself was tied to terrorism, and Iran, and even (in one outside ad) to the shooter of Representative Scalise.

So if the Democrats demote Pelosi and elevate someone else to be the face of the Democrats, the GOP will continue to demonize Democratic candidates in other ways. (Just as they have since 2002, when Max Cleland — the Democratic Senator from Georgia, who left three of his four limbs in Vietnam — was tarred as being Osama bin Laden’s man when he ran for re-election in 2002.)

For another thing, whoever is the face of the Democratic Party — in the House, or anywhere else — will be demonized. The Republicans may not be trustworthy in any valuable way, these years, but we can trust them to embark upon a campaign of smears and distortions to make whoever becomes the new “face” as ugly as possible.

Just consider how, after demonizing Bill Clinton for eight years — all those murders in Arkansas, you know — they started immediately on demonizing Barack Obama. Terrorist, Muslim, Kenya-born, hater of America. Anyone who can demonize Obama can demonize anyone.

So whatever benefit there may be in getting a new face for the Party, to replace Pelosi, will have an advantage, but it will just be temporary. The question might be, how long does that advantage last? Or, to put it operationally, how long would it take the Republicans (with the help, doubtless, of Fox News and the rest of the propaganda team) to teach their base to hate the new person as much as they hate Pelosi now?

Which brings me to my last point, which connects with the argument I make repeatedly about the need for the Democrats to stop forfeiting battles and go straight at the Republicans for what they do.

How readily the right-wing propagandists can create a hate object out of any given Democrat may depend on how that Democrat deals with that hate-mongering campaign. Obama never contested their demonization of him– and that was a major mistake. I don’t recall Pelosi putting up much of a fight, either. Both of them just went about their business, while the Republican base was taught not to see them for who and what they are, and what they stand for.

If I were Pelosi, even this late in the game, I would fight back and take the battle straight to the Republican base.

“You Republicans have been demonizing me long enough. You’ve been telling your voters lies about me, and lies about what you’re doing with the power they give you. And I’m ready to prove it.

“And so,” I would continue if I were Pelosi, as the 2018 campaign got under way, “I challenge you, Paul Ryan, to a series of debates. Let’s debate in front of the American people — your voters, our voters — about what you have done and what we have done, about what we want to do and what you want to do.

“It’s time for the lies to stop winning the day. Let’s get the truth on the table, so that the American people can choose a Congress that will serve better the real interests and values of the American people than what we’ve seen out of the House of Representatives under your leadership.”


  • Perseus1986

    You answered your own question and that is a real and valid reason to replace her. It is 90% about party image and not substance, and while Republicans are very good and antagonizing someone who has been in the spotlight long enough, it is true on both sides that the longer someone is in a position and has a certain image identified with them, the harder it is to shake off that image. It has nothing to do with policy and it is why career politicians who have had a long time in the national spotlight rarely get elected president; people already have their ideas made up about them, those that like them like them alright, but those that don’t not only dislike them, but despise them and love doing so.

    As unfair as it is, Pelosi is now pegged with the image of being an out of touch, corporatist politician with a massive net-worth coming from an ultra-wealthy, limosine liberal district that wants to tell the rest of America how to live. She’s 77 years old and a person, not a product that can be rolled out as version 2.0. Even if she is replaced with a multi-millionare congressperson who resides in Beverly Hills, it will still be a changeup that will generate positive renewed interest and curiosity among Democratic voters and would make things harder to peg down for Republican voters.

    Democrats’ problem is that their leadership is ossified and has spent too much time in the spotlight. The fact that, after the disaster of the Nov. elections, the same actors that symbolized successive congressional defeats and a upset loss in the presidential election, are assuming leadership again is going to keep holding the party back.

    If Pelosi were the long serving coach of a sports team, she would be at the point now where the team’s management and front office would be saying thank you for the memories, but we think its time for a change in direction, but you are still welcome to stay on in an advisory capacity.

    • Andy Schmookler

      As you suggest, Perseus1986, the argument that you find persuasive is one that I acknowledged has at least something to it. And I followed your argument comfortably enough up until a certain point where you made an unexpected move that seems in need of explanation.

      That point is where the front office would be saying to Pelosi, “we think it is time for a change in direction…”

      Is that “change of direction” something that you mean seriously, or was that just words for the front-office kiss-off of a coach whose team hasn’t been winning?

      If you mean it seriously, what do you have mind? What direction is Pelosi leading in, and what change would you want to see — direction-wise — from a new leader?

      For that matter, while the Republicans have a majority, and remain committed to the abominable “Hastert rule” — in which only things that command the support of a majority of the Republicans (not a majority of the members of the House) is allowed to come to the House floor for a vote — just what kinds of “directions” can the Democrats go?

      It seems that all the Democrats can do is hold their caucus together, which Pelosi seems to have been very good at, and to come before the cameras and make a case to the public for what they believe about the matters at hand.

      What they cannot do is enact legislation, either centrist, center-left, liberal, progressive, or whatever.

      So what direction are you wanting to see?

      • Perseus1986

        Change in direction doesn’t mean necessarily in policy, as said by both of us, it has to do with image and performance as well. Many congresspeople, regardless of where they lie on the left-right spectrum, are saying that they can’t gain ground in elections in part because of the Pelosi-“brand”. She may serve well in holding together a united minority, but there is a building sentiment that they can’t break out of the minority with her, and in my opinion with the current official and unofficial party leadership of multiple decades at the helm. And as you say that her role is to go before cameras and make a case to the public, but for much of the public, they aren’t hearing the message because it’s Nancy Pelosi talking.

        To take the coach metaphor to the extreme, sometimes, even if an old coach’s replacement is using the same tactics and has the same player management style, a change in personnel can still give new life to a team, can make people who were either complacent or comfortable feel the need to step up and perform, and subsequent changes in the lower levels of leadeship can bring new life and ideas into the group.

        A good example of changing leadership: In 1998 Republicans realized that their speaker’s brand was toxic, while they were still in the majority, and by dumping Gingrich before he could do any more damage, they held a majority in the House of 8 more years. Likewise, in several instances in parliamentary goverments, long-serving governments have been able to evade a looming defeat by dumping their PM close to the election. The impact of replacing Thatcher with Major wasn’t so much due to policy but due to image, for by changing, they appeared to voters to be going in a new direction with new leadership.

        • Andy Schmookler

          You may be right. But there’s one piece of the picture you’re painting that seems to me inaccurate, or at least distorted.

          The Democrats have had some very bad elections, in terms of Congress. 2010 and 2014 especially. (2010 was especially regrettable because of the Republican gerrymandering that resulted, making it necessary for the Democrats to get something like 55% of the vote to get a majority in the House.)

          Your description of the leadership’s role focuses on the congressional leadership, like Pelosi. While there’s a little bit of truth about that, we really need to acknowledge where the real responsibility for leadership lay in those elections: the Democratic president.

          When a party has the presidency, he (still only men) is the party’s leader, and he is the one with the bully pulpit, and it is he who is in the position to take his party’s case to the public.

          Don’t forget, even as the Democrats were losing their majority with Pelosi their leader in the House, the Democrats were also losing governorships and state legislatures. Can’t blame Pelosi for those.

          That kind of leadership was sorely lacking from Obama.

          A piece I published here after the 2014 elections I adapted into the preface to my book WHAT WE’RE UP AGAINST. That piece concludes with this, about the disgraceful Republican obstructionism::

          “Since the election, President Obama has become feisty about
          using the power of his office to get something accomplished despite the Republicans’ do-nothing obstructionism. That’s good.But why didn’t he get feisty before the election—when the people were still deciding to whom to give power—and show the electorate how the Republican Party was trampling on the traditions of our democracy and harming America?

          “This should have been the central issue of the 2014 campaign.

          “What could be more pertinent to a congressional election than how to get a Congress that will do the people’s business?
          But from the Democrats on this issue, including the president,
          hardly a peep. That left the American electorate hating
          Congress for failing them but nonetheless inclined to hand still
          more power to the party that deliberately made Congress the
          dysfunctional mess they hate.”

          Now, if the Republican obstructionism is what that election should have been about, and if the failure to focus the election on that is what caused the Democrats’ disaster, how much of the responsibility for that failure rests with the Minority Leader in the House?

          Compared with the President, how much was she in a position to do in framing the central issue of the campaign?

        • LibertarianDemocrat


      • Perseus1986

        Also, to put it in simpler terms, there were only 3 instances of parties recovering lost House majorities with the same leader at the helm, and that was when the majority alternated 4 times within a decade (47-55), not with a party coming back after 8 years as the minority.