Members Only | November 15, 2018 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

Liberals Disagree over Pelosi? Shocking!

Arguments over who's going to lead House Democrats are normal and healthy.

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Count me among those who think Nancy Pelosi was one of the best House Speakers ever, and will again be a formidable leader of the new House majority. I don’t find the arguments against her all that compelling. I sense others don’t either. Most back her. Few oppose her. The bulk of what you see in press coverage is deliberation. Necessary, but not out of character. It’s going to work itself out. This is what Democrats do.

Still, you have to wonder why there’s even a question. Pelosi is a fundraising colossus. She’s experienced. She’s smart and fearless. There are more good reasons to keep her than good reasons to replace her. Yes, there’s plenty of sexism to go around, even among Democrats. Yes, the press loves a horse race. But I think part of the question, part of the reason why we’re even asking if she should be the next speaker, should about fundamentals, particularly the fundamental differences between the parties.

We’re all looking at this “infighting” as if these Democrats were Republicans, as if progressives are the same as “Tea Party” radicals. They’re not. They’re liberal.

So much of the press coverage of the future leader of the Democratic Party in the age of Donald Trump looks at the Democrats the same way press coverage looked at the Republicans in the age of Barack Obama. This is in due to journalistic habit: balance the parties equally as a matter of fairness. But in doing so, press coverage ends up turning assets unique to the one party into something that looks like a liability.

Here’s the thing. Liberals don’t just get in line. Conservative do. That’s what you saw Wednesday. House Republicans elected Kevin McCarthy, their No. 2. He’ll be the next Minority Leader. Yes, the president favored Jim Jordan of the lunatic Freedom Caucus. But Jordan was not next in line. This matters greatly to Republicans. Liberals don’t care about who’s next. Liberals don’t care about hierarchy the way conservatives do.  

Why don’t liberals get in line?

Because they’re liberal.

What makes a person a liberal is the belief that respect and authority are earned, not mandated from on high. It’s the belief that people are equal, despite apparent and material inequalities. It’s the belief that power is to be used for the purpose of res publica, not for the benefit of group interests and identity, or simple greed.

Most of all, to be liberal means being willing to, even eager to, tolerate different ways of thinking, new ways of thinking, to encourage the expression of various and even conflicting points of views, and to follow a democratic process toward consensus.

The Democratic Party is fundamentally different in other ways. It’s diverse, more diverse than ever, racially, ethnically, religiously, and economically. There are more LGBTQ Democrats than before. There are more women Democrats than before. Ideologically, it’s a big tent. International free traders and domestic supply-siders are mixed in with isolationists and democratic socialists, individualists with communitarians, conservatives (liberally speaking) with pragmatists.

When liberals disagree (and they usually do, because they are, you know, liberal), they won’t typically let those disagreements undermine the program. But when conservatives disagree, there is no greater good. They are willing to inflame divisions and shut the whole thing down. Why? Because that’s what conservatives do.

Given all this, it really shouldn’t be surprising that some people in the Democratic Party oppose Pelosi. They say she’s too old. They say she’s out of touch. They say all kinds of things, good and bad, but all of it is in keeping with how liberals sort things out. Disagreement among conservatives indicates disunity. That’s the way it is. But disagreement among liberals is no such thing. It’s a sign of a vibrant liberal party.

—John Stoehr


As I was writing today’s Editorial Board, the Post reported that Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi now has the votes she needs to become the next Speaker of the House. Sure, anything’s possible. A massive earthquake could change everything. But I doubt Pelosi would make such an announcement if she didn’t have the votes. Again, liberals aren’t going to upend everything if individuals don’t get their way. Even Democrats opposed to Pelosi are going to accept, for now, the will of the majority. —JS

On the radio

Journalist Alex Wise is the host of Sea Change Radio, a nationally syndicated program about climate change, the environment and sustainability. He took a break from the norm to interview me about the Congressional midterms. Click here to listen. —JS


You’ll be happy to hear yesterday’s thread about US Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez went viral on Twitter, getting the attention of some pretty big names in journalism and media, including Soledad O’Brien, Touré, Virginia Heffernan and Andy Richter.

That one thread generated 10 paying subscribers and nearly 40 new sign ups. That’s a good day here at the Editorial Board, a very good day, and it’s all thanks to you!

Thank you for your kind encouragement and financial support! —JS

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

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