November 26, 2018 | Reading Time: 5 minutes

Why Most Pelosi Hot Takes Are Hot Garbage

Plus: Bernie's time has come and gone.

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You enjoy reading the Editorial Board (I hope!), because this daily newsletter does not suffer fools gladly. There’s a lot of bullshit in political journalism, and it can take a goodly amount of time to sort through it. That’s why the Editorial Board is here.

Since the congressional elections, you’ve heard a lot about Nancy Pelosi. You’ve read buckets of breathless prose about the vanishingly small possibility that she won’t become the next Speaker of the House. You’ve heard about “insurgents” from the left threatening her control of the party. You’ve heard about “moderates” from the right complaining that they can’t win reelection if she’s elected speaker. You’ve heard all manner of “narrative” explaining this and that—all of it nonsense if the “narrative” does not put political brass tacks front and center. Here are those brass tacks.

One, no one has stepped forward to challenge Pelosi. Yes, a couple dozen “moderate” Democrats have signed a letter saying they won’t support her if she does not answer their demands. So what? Make demands all day every day if you want. It won’t matter if the caucus does not have an alternative. This challenge is weak. It’s obvious. She knows this. They know this. The question is why bother challenging her at all.

That leads me to the second brass tack: quid pro quo. A wise politician knows what kind of leverage she has, and will search for opportunities to use it. Challenging a leader, even if the challenge can’t succeed, might be worth the effort if one can extract something in return. This appears to be happening. “Moderate” Democrats are reversing themselves. Steve Lynch said Sunday that he’ll now get behind Pelosi. Before the Thanksgiving break, Brian Higgins did the same. (As for “left-wing insurgents,” they appear to be on board with Pelosi’s coronation; more on that in a moment.)

I don’t know what Pelosi promised. I don’t think it matters, because quid pro quo is not devious. It’s normal. It’s healthy. It is what the US Congress was designed to do—overcome difference and seek compromise even if that means greasing the skids.

Even if Pelosi were a parsimonious greaser of skids (she isn’t), the result might be the same. She’d become speaker, because the Democratic Party is a liberal party. (This is the third and final brass tack.) As such, the Democrats can tolerate, and even encourage, disagreement among party members, because the party can maintain unity in spite of disagreement. An unhealthy party, like the Republican Party, can’t tolerate disagreement, because it’s conservative. Disagreement signals disunity, which, to other Republicans, signals weakness, which, again, is something the party can’t tolerate.

Don’t take my word for it. Consider Jim Himes. Of the five House Democrats representing Connecticut, he’s probably the most conservative (liberally speaking). He represents Fairfield County, home of hedge funds and Wall Street tycoons. He’s the head of a “centrist” caucus called the New Democratic Coalition. Himes has been cagey about Pelosi, but this morning, he told CNN he plans to vote for her Wednesday when the Democrats meet. Time will tell if I’m right, but that would appear to be the death knell of a fundamentally weak and short-lived anti-Pelosi campaign.

Bernie’s time has come and gone

In addition to the Nancy Pelosi horse race coverage you have been reading, you’ve probably read about Bernie Sanders and his interest in running for president for a second time. As you did with Pelosi, you’ll encounter considerable bullshit in those Sanders stories without knowing you’ve encountered it. How can you tell?

Does the story mention this fundamental? That Sanders played a key role in wounding Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential candidacy. If not, the story is not telling the whole truth. Yes, we can quibble about whether Sanders really did wound Clinton’s campaign, but there is no debating that millions of rank-and-file Democrats believe Sanders did just that. Since belief often defines political reality, stories about Sanders that don’t mention this widely shared viewpoint are misrepresenting political reality.  

But that isn’t my only complaint. So much of the press coverage of Sanders avoids taking into account the fundamental nature of the Democratic Party. I mean this: the base of the party likes leftist policies—Medicare for all, Green New Deal, etc.—but since 2016, it no longer likes Sanders. Why? Because he wounded Clinton. If reporters don’t convey this intra-party nuance, they don’t understand the Democrats.

The Times’ Sydney Ember reported over the weekend that the “liberal wing of the Democrats is getting crowded,” meaning that so many more Democrats embrace positions that previously were embraced only by Sanders. This could make a run for president more challenging for Sanders, because “he would likely face more rivals and far greater scrutiny, which caused him to stumble at times in 2016,” Embers wrote.

You could say this is the consequence of success. Sanders moved the party leftward. Now the competition is fiercer. But, as I and others have been saying for years, the party was already moving leftward. It already liked leftist policies. That the party has generated more leftists than any time in my lifetime is not because of Sanders. It’s because of the party. Sanders’ true obstacle, as it was in 2016, is the party itself.

Again, don’t take my word for it. Consider Nancy Pelosi. She was the main target of leftists after 2016. But now, in the wake of the midterms, in which the Democrats won more House seats than in any time since Watergate, the “insurgents” are coming to her defense, making the party’s liberal wing the Pelosi wing, meaning that the leftists are now at the beating heart of the Democratic Party. A process that began with Bush v. Gore is finally coming into the fore. And there’s probably no room for Sanders.

More airtime

Alex Wise, the host of Sea Change Radio, published the second half of his interview with me just before the Thanksgiving break. Click here. I really don’t know if I sound smart or dumb. Reply to this newsletter to let me know how I did. Be kind!

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


  1. Bennett on July 30, 2021 at 7:15 am

    As always, John, a solid take on the situation. Pelosi did well in organizing the House for this year’s midterms and she has earned her speaker-ship, although the problem of age-ism in the top slots is still a problem. But let’s set that aside. We should give Sanders credit where it is due–and that is in making it possible for the the progressive wing of the Democratic party to organize behind a single leader at a national level. While it is true that the party has moved further left–ahead of and now along with the American public on so many issues as gun control, marijuana legalization, health care, and minimum wage–what it did not have was a champion who took that vision into the presidential arena. (Note that person was not Obama, although he might have given a good impression of having done so, especially given his community organizing background.) The progressive left had had occasional voices on the floor of the House in such highly vocal, often theatrical (and, in the end, self-detonating) actors as Alan Grayson of Florida and Anthony Weiner of New York and sometime populist rostrum thumpers as Tom Harkin, but really, who ever took it to the presidential level? Perhaps we came closest with the again self-immolating Jon Edwards and his “Two Americas.” But, in the end, it was Sanders who gave a unified national voice without blowing himself in the process through personal aggrandizement or just plain bizarre behavior. (Warren, in this regard, is the latecomer to the game–with a further left politics ahead of her but no record behind her.) I’d also add that one key difference between Sanders now and Sanders then is that Sanders as an independent was able to move the Democratic party left so that now those within the actual party system can represent his politics. This change is also one of the more tactile reasons Sanders isn’t welcome to the Party’s party. In brief, unlike Clinton, Sanders never paid any dues by being a part of the Democratic exchange system. He was a spoiler in one of the truest senses of the terms: he ran for the votes of the one party that he deigned not to join. Notwithstanding the DNC fight that recently occurred over superdelegates (rightly decided by reducing their impact), if there was any one person who didn’t deserve superdelegate votes–the votes of Democratic politicians who did pay their dues to the party in every which way one can define the paying of dues–that one person was the very individual who never paid any of those dues: Bernie Sanders.

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