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.”