Thursday, January 06, 2011

Nancy Pelosi's future will be different from her past

Dana Milbank ponders the demotion of Speaker Pelosi and posits that she is better in the opposition.
But there was a genuine reason for Pelosi to smile as she surrendered the gavel: She was returning to a job that suits her better.

As speaker, her record was mixed. She had many major legislative achievements, particularly in the past two years, but she also led her caucus off an electoral cliff, in part because she forced members to take damaging votes on policies that didn't have a chance of passing the Senate.

In her four years as minority leader, by contrast, Pelosi's effectiveness was seldom questioned as she tripped up the majority with her relentless opposition. "If people are ripping your face off," she said before winning the majority in 2006, "you have to rip their face off."

Pelosi is better in the fight than she is in charge, a more able warrior than lawmaker.
I disagree with Milbank's analysis and prognostication about Pelosi's future. First of all Pelosi was very effective as Speaker. She kept her caucus together and pushed through the measures that she wanted. Her problem was that the public didn't want what she was selling. But she was masterful in orchestrating her party to pass her bills.

It is a lot easier to shine in opposition when a politician doesn't have her own record. Being the leader of the opposition to an out-of-power party criticizing an unpopular president leading up to the 2006 election victories for the Democrats is a very different job facing Pelosi today. Now she has four years of a record in power and a president of her own party in power. She won't be criticizing without having to defend her own actions as she did prior to becoming Speaker. She won't be able to make promises about transparency and spending control as she did before because such claims are just laughable given her actual actions when she wielded the gavel.

Before he ascension to Speaker, few people, other than political mavens, knew who she was. Sure readers of this blog knew who she was but the average American doesn't know who the leader of the minority power of the House is. But now she is a familiar face. She has also had to suffer the criticism and ridicule that Republicans aimed at her for the past four years. Many Republicans ran for the House by tying their opponents to Nancy Pelosi. She has been the butt of jokes on late night comedy shows including some devastating skits on SNL. She is not anonymous.

So when she appears on talk shows or gives interviews criticizing the Republicans in the House, even a compliant media will know to ask her questions contrasting her own job as Speaker with her criticisms of John Boehner. If she makes promises of what she would do if put back in power in 2012, she'll have to answer questions about her previous actions.

She might have considered yesterday's transfer of power as the first rally in her 2012 campaign, but she'll have to face the reality that she is no blank slate making promises that exist in a vacuum.