Part of the fallout of the John Ossoff loss is that a number of people are now calling for Nancy Pelosi to step down as Minority Leader in the House. I understand Handel used the terrifying specter of Pelosi in her ads against Ossoff, and it worked. Last year I saw a lot of Republican ads here in Missouri that used Nancy Pelosi against a Democrat, and they appeared to be effective.
I’m ambivalent about Pelosi, frankly. On the one hand, I agree with what Charles Pierce wrote here —
In my time on this earth, I’ve seen Republican propaganda turn a decent centrist like Michael Dukakis into a signatory of the Port Huron statement. I’ve seen it turn a decorated war hero like John Kerry into a Francophone poltroon. I’ve seen it turn a radical centrist/Rockefeller Republican like Bill Clinton into a dope-smoking refugee from the Monterey Pop Festival. I’ve seen kindly old Tip O’Neill turned into a Thomas Nast cartoon, and I’ve seen Barack Obama turned into an Islamic Kenyan holy man. I’ve seen an audience created for every one of these manufactured creations, and I’ve seen that audience respond to them as if they had the firmest basis in reality.
So you will pardon me if I’m dubious of the notion that congressional Democrats have to rid themselves of Nancy Pelosi because she was so easily demonized in that Georgia special election. If it wasn’t her, it would have been somebody else. To paraphrase the editor in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, if there’s a conflict between the person and the legend, slander the legend.
On the other hand, I think that the debacle that was last year’s election revealed the Dems desperately need to rebuild the brand. And they’re not going to do that with the same old faces in the top leadership positions. Tessa Stuart wrote in Rolling Stone,
Mailer after mailer, TV ad after TV ad reinforced the link between Ossoff and Pelosi, who internal GOP polling showed had strong negatives for Republican voters in the district. According to the Washington Post, Pelosi had 98 percent name recognition in the district but her approval rating was “35 points underwater.”
In South Carolina, the GOP similarly took pains to link Parnell and Pelosi â€“ even as Parnell campaigned with Tim Ryan, the Ohio congressman who challenged Pelosi for minority leadership in November.
I confess, I don’t entirely get why Pelosi in particular is so hated in red America, but she is. Sexism plays a role in that, I’m sure, which makes it unfair to Pelosi. But last year, as I watched from a red state, it seemed all the Republicans had to do is somehow tie any Democratic candidate to Nancy Pelosi, and that Dem was toast.
Popularity isnâ€™t everything, but in this case, the American people are right. It is time for Pelosi to go. Passing the torch would be the right thing to do, and not just because of horserace politics.Â Pelosi is an excellent vote-wrangler and fundraiser, and she has a long and honorable record of defending a certain type of Democratic politics. But at this moment in history, her political frame is a barrier to the much-needed renewal of theÂ Democratic Party.
Stoller calls this the “pity problem”:
When Pelosi sees poverty or discrimination, she sees the people being affected as unfortunate victims who need and deserve a helping hand. Poverty and discrimination are unfortunate. But more fundamentally, they represent a lack of freedom â€• freedom that someone, or some system, has taken from you. You are not free if you canâ€™t afford to see a doctor. You are not free if you cannot access a good education because of your race or income. You are not free if your landlord can cheat you because youâ€™re poor. You are not free if you are a family farmer being driven under by meatpacking monopolists.Â
Poverty as a lack of freedom connects with a larger problem: More and more of us are having our liberties stolen. Entrepreneurs are savaged by private equity firms and monopolies, young lawyers are burdened by student debt, and we are all being subjected to a health care system full of egregiously large and mismanaged hospital systems, pharmaceutical companies and drug stores. Poverty is a concentrated form of the problems all Americans are increasingly facing.
Too many Democrats have never thought about their politics in this way, or considered the notion that there might be an alternative frame through which to pursue a progressive agenda.
This issue, as venture capitalist Nick Hanauer, put it, is deep. â€œPelosi, and the rest of the party learned everything they know about economics from Trickledownâ€™ers,â€Â he said on Twitter. â€œThus, they think there is a trade-off between growth and fairness and cannot articulate an economic story distinct from Republicans, except with pity.â€Â
Put another way — the Dem leadership suffers from a big lack of imagination and a narrow perspective on what’s needed and what’s possible. This in turn has left a lot of people frustrated with the Dems.
Alejandro Chavez, Democracy for America’s campaign manager, told The Fix:
Nancy Pelosi is not where we need to go. She’s failed leadership. While she might be doing some great things in her district, the truth is she’s the person who’s been leading this front that we’ve been running on for years, so she has to go as leadership.
What she’s doing isn’t working. She’s the leadership, it’s failed and, ultimately, it’s her responsibility.
But then there’s the question of who should replace her. Â And this brings up another issue that is not just true of Pelosi, but of the Democratic Party national leadership generally. It seems to be more difficult for younger talent to break into the Dem Party power structure than is true of Republicans. Dem leadership is just plain old.Â Dana Milbank wrote last year,
Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader, will be 77 next year.
Steny Hoyer, her deputy, will be 78.
Jim Clyburn, the No. 3 Democratic leader, will be 77.
Their current ages, if combined, would date back to 1787, the year George Washington presided over the signing of the Constitution.
It is time for them to go. Â …
…Â Democrats would benefit from some fresh blood to take on Donald Trump, the oldest president ever elected for the first time, and to revive enthusiasm among millennials, who didnâ€™t turn out in the numbers Democrats needed.
After the debacle that was last year, the Democratic Party needs to be able to hang out a shingle that says “under new management.” Seriously.