November 17, 2006
Did She or Didn’t She?

I’ve been mulling over the wisdom of Speaker-in-waiting Pelosi’s attempt to rid herself of rival Steny Hoyer and replace him with ally Jack Murtha.

Had it worked, it might have been considered a stroke of genius. But it certainly was a divisive move, and the outcome proved that the Speaker’s power is strictly limited. It also demonstrated the importance, in fact the two-thirds-ness, of the vaunted Middle (as opposed to the Godless Left) in the Democratic party. (Speaking of which, do you think Bush will stop calling it the “Democrat” party just because he’s a lame duck? Me neither. Except on formal occasions, I think that might change.)

In fact it might even turn out to help the House Democrats position themselves nearer the center of American politics than the opposition Republicans. It certainly shows that the skateboard of San Francisco liberalism has a big honkin’ East-Coast-politico brake on it. Whether the American public will label this Dullsville, or Corruption as Usual, or Inaction as Usual, or — do I break the spell to mention it? — a Smashing Success remains, of course, to be seen.

Certainly some widely expected actions like raising the minimum wage and making a start on climate change would have a huge effect on the credibility of the Democratic party in this uncertain time. The Democrats could come out of this situation as the disappointed older sibling whose intervention is likely to save the ass of the screw-up Republican kid. They don’t want to look like the disapproving parent, because the so-called Reagan Democrats include a high percentage of Peter Pan cases who resent any elite, no matter how justified its influence by time and experience. In fact, especially that kind.

The biggest question is whether the Democrats can pull something out of this fire they’ve been left with. It’s entirely possible that they’ve become so hooked on contributions from the war machine that, like the Republicans, they’re immobilized in the face of oncoming disaster. If so, God help us, and more particularly God help our troops in Iraq, who, as Martin van Creveld points out, may yet find themselves driving helter-skelter for the Kuwaiti border in whatever vehicle needs to be removed or destroyed. Let us hope it doesn’t come to that.

Now that the American people have recognized that the war in Iraq is hopeless, what comes next? The United States is going to cut its losses and withdraw. Most likely, the withdrawal will start within months and be more or less complete by autumn 2007. If not, then the war will dominate the next U.S elections as it has the recent ones, and that is something neither the Democrats nor the Republicans want.

Withdrawing 140,000 men with all their equipment is a very complex operation. In 1945 and 1973, America simply evacuated its troops, leaving most of its equipment to its West European and South Vietnamese prot�g�s respectively. This time things are different. So precious is modern defense equipment that not even the largest power on earth can afford to abandon large quantities of it.

Second, whatever equipment is left in Iraq is likely to fall into the hands of America’s enemies. Thus the Pentagon will have no choice but to evacuate millions of tons of war matériel the way it came — in other words, back at least as far as Kuwait. Doing so will be time-consuming, enormously expensive and dangerous, as road-bound convoys making their way south are attacked.

Discomfiting as this prospect is, there seems to be some chance that decisions over the next two years will be made with a modicum of adult supervision. War criminals, many of them, I grant you, but at least the dour realpolitik kind of war criminal, not the gleefully ideological one. The type who can fold a losing hand.

In light of all this, I’m particularly happy to see there’s at least one keen observer with some hopeful things to say.

Greider does not fail to follow the advice he quotes from Wendell Barry, “Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.” First one must consider the facts, bleak though they sometimes seem.

Corporate leaders, investment bankers and the insurance industry are lobbying to gut the modest regulations enacted after Enron and to disable investor lawsuits against fraud on Wall Street and in corporate boardrooms.

Which side will Democrats be on? In the 1990s leading senators supported big money against the interests of injured investors, including pension funds. Deviating Democrats included Chris Dodd, Joe Lieberman, Charles Schumer and Joe Biden, to name a few. If they are on the wrong side this time, voters should hear about it.

This tension between liberal economic values and the center-right economics of Clinton is the party’s great divide. Clintonistas-in-waiting — awaiting Hillary’s White House — still dominate party affairs in Washington. But the facts have changed. Voters expressed their contempt for Republicans in 2006. They did not suggest they want the same behavior from Democrats.

Though the DLC spin machine, nearly as accomplished as that of the Republicans, has claimed the opposite, my hero is obviously right: voters did not suggest a hunger for DeLay-style Republicanism. In fact they’re looking for a Monty Python moment: and now, for something completely different. My guess is that some honesty about important subjects would get a lot of support. For instance, I think most Americans are convinced we need to start working on solutions to Iraq, climate change, and health care, and are willing to consider a variety of possibilities if they feel they’re being taken seriously in the process. It is, after all, their future.

Or perhaps I’m overthinking, overanalyzing, attributing motive after the fact. Which West Wing episode was it where Bartlet asked the assembled staff, practically all of them lawyers, the meaning of post hoc ergo propter hoc? Leo was the only person in the room who could translate the phrase, which for those of you who weren’t blessed with Latin classes in high school means after it, therefore because of it. The tendency to attribute causation to a series of events is enormous, especially when self-interest is involved.

Maybe I’m considering an obvious failure for the soon-to-be-Speaker to be a success in sheep’s clothing. But there’s the delicious possibility that the Democrats are really ready to play the modern political game, combining symbol and substance to re-form the old FDR coalition. That way lies majority-hood.

Nancy Pelosi has the power to break through the risk-averse habits. She and liberal allies like Representative George Miller are playing shrewd, not reckless politics. But the Democrats don’t have forever to establish bona fides with the electorate. A year from now, if the party looks like the same old timid crowd, Democrats will be in trouble of their own making.
Posted by Chuck Dupree at November 17, 2006 04:27 AM
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Could it be that despite Pelosi's power, her fellow Democrats actually exercised some common sense by rejecting a person, Murtha, who at the very least, has demonstrated a rather casual attitude to some Arabs who were clearly trying to bribe him. Having worked for the government, and having literally run from contractors who were "just" trying to buy me lunch, I think Murtha is scum for even having that video turn out to be ambiguous.

Sadly, Hoyer also seems to be in competition with Murtha as a Prince if not a King of pork barrel and earmark politics. But this relates, probably, to the ability to give and receive favors which is no doubt critical for those who aspire to positions of power within the party. Those not so adept are, sadly, probably pretty much on the other side of the fence looking in.

Given our political system and its dependence upon campaign contributions which normally require allegiance to those with the big bucks which usually means big corporations (See Hillary, especially), it is difficult to believe that the Democrats will do anything that threatens the corporations that fund their campaigns. As long as they have to spend at least half of every week fundraising, we can hardly expect very much that is very meaningful to come out of this bunch.

As far as Pelosi goes, there is something about her that bothers me, that I cannot put my finger on. Something about the way she walks and talks, something about those overlarge eyes blankly staring. She just seems like an alien to me, at the very least robotic.

Albeit, I don't want to simply write the Dems off as the left wing of the corporate party. One can certainly make a good case for that but I refuse at this point to give into total cynicism. There is simply too much at stake. Webb, for example, wrote a truly radical populist piece in the WSJ recently. I also find it difficult to believe that someone like the newly elected Tester from Montana fits the mold. Seems like a Mr. Smith type. But can he resist the temptations of Washington?

And surely I should take some solace in the fact that Barbara Boxer will head up the Envrionment and Public Works Committee, to replace the most vile and stupidest man in the Senate, Senator Inhofe. Barbara has been great fun speaking truth to power. Now that she has the power, or at least some power, how will she act?

Posted by: tom on November 18, 2006 10:05 AM
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