By Bill Press
Tribune Media Services
After the “shellacking” they took on Nov. 2, there’s only one thing all Democrats agree on: Nancy Pelosi has to go!
And there’s no doubt why. She’s a nice lady, but she led the party too far to the left. She presided over record deficit spending. She vastly expanded government control over health care, the market economy, and energy production. She became such a symbol of out-of-control big government that Republican Chairman Michael Steele spent two months driving around the country in a bus emblazoned with the slogan: “Fire Pelosi” — and any Democratic member of Congress identified as her supporter was considered dead on arrival.
Even several Blue Dog Democrats have publicly — and some liberal Democrats, privately — called on Pelosi to resign from the House leadership in order for the Democratic Caucus to re-position itself as more moderate.
Those Democrats are, no doubt, sincere. They are also, Lord knows, dead wrong.
Their problem is that they suffer from the classic disease and perpetual identity crisis known as “self-hating democratitis.” You’ll easily recognize the symptoms: When they win, they rush to the center. When they lose, they rush to the center. Unlike Republicans, they’re never happy with who they are.
There are many reasons why it is wrong for Democrats to try to throw Nancy Pelosi overboard. But let’s start with the obvious: Republicans don’t want to get rid of her because she’s been so ineffective. Duh! Just the opposite. They don’t want Pelosi around because she’s been the most effective speaker of either party since Tip O’Neill.
Check the record. While the White House dillied and the Senate dallied, Pelosi’s House of Representatives delivered. She fired up the Democratic caucus (like herding cats), rolled over Republican opposition, and produced strong legislation on health-care reform, financial reform, campaign finance reform, climate change, and many other issues. Indeed, Pelosi’s only problem may be that she was too effective. When Congress broke for the midterm elections, The Hill reported there were 420 bills that had passed the House but were languishing in the Senate, which some still laughingly call “the world’s most deliberative body.”
Pelosi’s critics say she caused many conservative Democrats to lose their seats by pressuring them to vote for health-care reform. Which assumes, of course, that health care was the deciding factor in this year’s elections — and a negative one for Democrats. Neither of which is true, no matter how many times Mitch McConnell says it.
Every exit poll taken on Nov. 2, in fact, showed that the economy, not health care, was the number one issue in the midterm elections, among both Republicans and Democrats. In Politico’s survey, for example, 62 percent cited America’s economic woes as their chief concern, while only 19 percent mentioned health care.
Nor did voting for health care prove to be a poison pill for Democrats. Actually, as documented by Think Progress, 18 out of 34 House Democrats who voted against health care, fearing it would hurt them in November, lost their seats anyway. Only 12 who voted no ended up winning (three retired; one race is still undecided).
Health care did not decide this election. Two things did: the economy and voter turnout. Despite some signs of progress, Americans are still feeling unsure we’re ever going to recover from the crash of 2008. And when the economy’s sour, fairly or unfairly, voters always take it out on the party in power. As President Obama correctly observed in his news conference on Nov. 3, if unemployment today were at 5 percent instead of 9.5 percent, results of the midterm elections would have been far different.
If you can’t blame our economic woes on Nancy Pelosi, you can’t blame the lack of voter turnout, either. Yet turnout tells the whole story of this election. Consider: 131 million Americans came out to vote in the presidential election of 2008; only 90 million bothered to vote in the midterms. More to the point: 120 million voted in congressional races in 2008; only 75 million — older, whiter, and more angry — did so in 2010. And an astounding 29 million Americans who turned out to vote for Barack Obama in 2008 didn’t even bother to vote this time around. Again, had they done so, a different story.
Blame Nancy Pelosi for what happened? No way. Forget the sexist attacks against her. Instead, celebrate her leadership. She’s ready to fight back. She’s one Democrat who’s not caving in.
© 2010 Tribune Media Services, Inc.