There is little question that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will be elected to head the Democratic Caucus as Minority Leader by her Democratic colleagues. The reason is simple: She is absolutely the best choice to lead House Democrats through the tough two years that lie ahead.
Pelosi is one of the best strategists and organizers in modern American political history. She understands how to engage the self-interests of her colleagues and forge consensus. Far from being the divisive figure portrayed by her Republican opponents, she is the consummate coalition builder. She is a great listener. She pays close attention to what her Members say about their needs, their problems and their priorities. That’s how she was able to construct majorities that could actually pass Health Care Reform, Wall Street Reform, and an energy bill which — had it passed the Senate — would have begun to create the clean energy jobs of the future.
In addition to these landmark pieces of legislation, Pelosi presided over passage of: the Lilly Ledbetter Act that guarantees equal pay for women; the Student Aide and Financial Responsibly Act that eliminated $87 billion in unnecessary subsidies to big banks and reinvested most of it back into making higher education affordable for students; expansion of the State Children’s Health Care Program; passage of a new GI Bill for the veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars; and the list goes on.
In fact, as Speaker, Pelosi has presided over the most productive, pro-middle class session of Congress since the 1960′s and she did it by knowing how to weld together the disparate elements of the disparate Democratic caucus and take action.
She is an electoral asset. I know, you’re saying this guy must be on another planet. Her positive numbers are in the toilet.
The fact is that Nancy Pelosi’s negatives had precious little to do with Democratic losses last week. The exit polls showed clearly that swing voters were not voting against “Pelosi” — or for that matter for Republican policies. They were voting against the economy. Many of them just voted for change out of frustration. Others bought the snake oil that the other side was pedaling.
Mike Lux pointed out in a HuffPost blog on Friday, that:
“In 2008, Obama won the votes of people who said their personal economic situation had gotten worse by a 43 percent margin. In 2010, Democrats lost those voters by 29 percent. By the way, the number who said things were worse for them? Forty percent. That is an incredibly big swing in such a massive slice of the electorate, one on a scale that I don’t remember in 25 years of looking at exit polls.”
And in the end there was a major enthusiasm gap. The massive Get Out the Vote operations run by Democrats were in fact successful at increasing Democratic voting to levels at or above the level of 2006 — when, let us recall, Democrats took back control of the House. The difference was the level of Republican turnout, which far exceeded their 2006 level.
Nancy Pelosi did not cause either the enthusiasm gap or the economic crisis. In fact, she pressed for greater levels of stimulus at the beginning of 2009 that was the single largest thing that could have been done to improve the economy and limit the political damage last week.
She got the House to pass the DISCLOSE Act that would have limited the power of the Chamber of Commerce and other Republican front groups to spend hundreds of millions of secret money — some from foreign sources — to spread massive amounts of mis-information about Democrats relentlessly for the last year-and-a-half. Senate Republicans stopped the Disclose Act using the filibuster.
More than that, she did more than anyone else to limit this election’s damage to her caucus by tirelessly touring the country raising the tens of millions of dollars necessary to finance their defense. In fact, far from causing these losses, without her work, they would have been much more severe.
Let’s also recall that her fundraising, organizing and political skill were the key reasons why Democrats took back the house in 2006 in the first place, and expanded their majorities in 2008.
Going forward, those same skills are critical to power the comeback of House Democrats and the Democratic campaigns in 2012 in general.
Some say that she is a bad “face” for the Democrats in the House. The only “face” of the Democratic Party until 2012 will be Barack Obama. This will not be an off-year election — but a presidential year.
And she does have several other qualities that make her an important face for the party.
- She stands firmly against cuts in Social Security and Medicare — a critical factor for seniors, who are a major element of the vote.
- While she may not be popular among many swing voters, she is very popular among the progressive Democratic base. It is critical that the base be inspired in 2012. Her unwavering commitment to progressive values can help make that so.
- She continues to be popular among the leaders of women’s organizations — again a major mobilizable constituency in 2010. She is, after all, the first female Speaker of the House.
- Pelosi is tough, decisive and fearless. When it appeared that the Health Care bill would collapse after Scott Brown won the Massachusetts Senate race, Pelosi didn’t flinch. Her determination and vision got the job done.
- If Republicans had forced Nancy Pelosi to abandon the playing field it would have been one of their most powerful symbols of Republican success and strength — and it would have sent a powerful message to voters about Democratic weakness. Her decision to remain at the helm and lead the way back from this defeat is precisely the kind of story of resolve, resilience, strength and inspiration that Democrats — and the country — need.
In order to win in 2012 Democrats have three critical tasks. We have to be successful achieving all of them:
- We have to convince a substantial number of swing voters who supported Republicans last week that they bought snake oil.
- We have to inspire our base with passion, strength and resolve.
- We have to actually improve the American economy.
As minority leader in the House, Nancy Pelosi is well suited to play a significant role in achieving each of these goals.
Far from being a “Chablis and brie” San Francisco liberal, this daughter of an Italian-American Baltimore mayor is better characterized as a Baltimore street-fighter. And that’s just who we need as Minority Leader of the Democrats in the House over the next two years.
Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist, and author of the book: Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, available on Amazon.com.