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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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.
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.