Posted by Brad @ 2:34 pm on February 25th 2007

The Performance of Nancy Pelosi

There have been some few problems with Nancy Pelosi’s early tenure as Speaker (incredibly stupid, gobsmackingly dishonest smears like the plane story), to some genuine concerns about her tactics in pushing through some of her First 100 Hours policies.

But, on the whole, ideas that she would be some kind of crazy liberal gorgon, or that she’d be a hopelessly flailing in-over-her-head liberal-puppet Hastert-In-A-Skirt, seem to be unfounded. By and large the consensus has formed, even among her enemies, that she’s actually….well, pretty damn competent at her new job. Good at it, even.

Some choice quotes via Americablog.

Good editorial from the Philly Inquirer:

Pelosi, 66, initially stumbled by endorsing an ally, Rep. John P. Murtha (D., Pa.), as majority leader. He lost that contest badly to Pelosi’s deputy, centrist Maryland Rep. Steny H. Hoyer.

But Pelosi had made an important point. She was loyal to her allies, she wasn’t afraid to take chances and she meant to use her power. No sissy girly she. And Murtha remains an influential voice in the House as chairman of the subcommittee that oversees defense spending.

The move didn’t visibly hurt her with her caucus, although those who underestimate women had a brief ha-ha.

She then proceeded to push through the legislative list she had promised for the first 100 days of Democratic House control. The important thing was she got votes from moderates and Republicans, not just liberals.


She has played House politics the bare-knuckle way the Republicans did, so far without the accompanying ethics problems.

Republicans who thought she would be easy pickings are learning differently. They are reduced to complaining about the partisan limitations on their minority status and her desire for a secure Air Force plane to ferry her home to her district.

Of course the metric for success at this point is pretty low. But I agree with the editorialist regarding the Murtha dustup, and even the GOP seems to have decided that Pelosi isn’t as ripe a target as they had initially thought.

Pelosi’s success has stymied the GOP, which has moved to change its strategy of laying low. It was a plan endorsed in January by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich during a Republican retreat, but a plan he later rejected, as Pelosi appeared to be gaining strength and confidence.

Even Novak went out of his way to comment that her brief tenure has been “a success beyond all anticipation.”

Well, I don’t know about that last part. Most intelligent people were pretty skeptical to begin with of the Republican cries of an impending liberal apocalypse following in the wake of Pelosi riding naked into Washington on a spirit horse of raised taxes, gay marriage, and unsupported troops. It sounded about as desperate as it was.

I am not very close to Pelosi politically, but I’ve always thought that she’s gotten a much worse beat than she deserves; and more to the point I’ve always been resistant and downright hostile to the Republican tactic of trying to get voters to ignore their own faults by paper tigering easy targets (“vote for Bush in 2004 because Michael Moore….man, isn’t he CRAAAZY?!”). So, I’m a bit pleased to see Pelosi doing so well, at least for now.


  1. With Iraqi WMD, terror level shenanigans, Iranian intel and the whole “two words – ‘Speaker Pelosi'” nonsense, it’s almost as if there’s a GOP policy of trying to scare people.

    Comment by Adam — 2/25/2007 @ 4:18 pm

  2. It is way too early to make any kind of meaningful judgment about Pelosi’s competence as Speaker.

    Had we evaluated Gingrich at this stage of his term, we’d be thinking of him as the greatest political architect since LBJ.

    Comment by Rojas — 2/25/2007 @ 10:49 pm

  3. It’s not too late to start making judgments on what a disaster she has thus far not been, which is more my point. At least at this stage, the radical scaremonging about Speaker Pelosi appears to have been unfounded.

    Also, not too early to compare to Gingrich, if you’re talking about how he was evaluated at this stage of his term. Thankfully, we have data!


    Pelosi (late January):



    12/20/94 (as incoming speaker): 35/43
    1/4/95: 35/37
    1/29/95: 40/48
    3/5/95: 38/51

    Newt’s best showing was in May and July of 1998, when he scored equal 41/44 ratings.

    Comment by Paint CHiPs — 2/26/2007 @ 12:26 am

  4. Pelosi’s helped by the GOP’s convincing impersonation of a beaten dog, too.

    Yes, she has plenty of time to screw everything up, but had we believed the GOP pre-election talk, the sky would be bending the trees over right now. Now all parties talk up the ill-effects of their opponents winning, but fearmongering appears to be so much the GOP strategy that people will eventually just stop listening. The GOP better had hope that Peolosi does into what they predicted, else they’ll be batting 0.000 for Apocalyptic Predictions, not to mention handing the Dems a big stick with which to beat them in the 2008 elections.

    Comment by Adam — 2/26/2007 @ 7:23 am

  5. “Radical scaremongering?”

    Living in a competitive district bordering on two other competitive districts in a mid-level media market that was targeted by both parties, I think I heard the “Speaker Pelosi” argument TWICE. And in neither case was there any assertion made that the earth would implode in the first month.

    Sorry, O Blogging Partners, but you’re pounding on a straw man here. Go out and find instances of Republicans Saying Mean Nasty Things About America’s First Female Speaker if you absolutely must; the fact remains that for most people whose noses weren’t buried in political chat sites, the question of her competence as an issue in local house races didn’t even arise.

    The “Republican fearmongering” meme is starting to fail by its own standards. The more often that horse gets trotted out, the more I ask myself who it is that’s doing the majority of the mongerin’.

    Comment by Rojas — 2/26/2007 @ 10:50 am

  6. That is the whole point, Rojas. Rove had a policy of ‘let them think about Speaker Pelosi’ and it just didn’t work; a large part of that was that the GOP never got going in painting her as Evil Incarnate because they were fighting their own fires most of the year and the public’s attention was dominated by that. That no one paid attention to their attempts doesn’t mean that the Dems can’t bring it up next time to illustrate their claims that the GOP are lying hysterical slime.

    As for the theme failing by its own standards, within the law week or so it’s been revealed that terrorism plots were overcounted by the administration and also that the latest Iran talk from the administation is based on weak intelligence (both of which were mentioned here). The general GOP fearmongering strategy is only now really started to stink the place up, assuming that people prefer to be informed than be scared (that is a big assumption, I agree, but that’s nothing to do with the theme lacking substance).

    Comment by Adam — 2/26/2007 @ 12:06 pm

  7. So…

    …the GOP DIDN’T foster a “Speaker Pelosi will destroy the earth mindset,” but the fact that they CONTEMPLATED doing so makes them hideous fearmongers?

    Sorry, but stacked up alongside the global warming hysterics and the “OMG Bush is PREPARING A PLAN to invade Iran!!!” screeching, that’s very small potatoes. Scarecely even yam-sized, really.

    Comment by Rojas — 2/26/2007 @ 12:20 pm

  8. They certainly attempted to foster that mindset over Pelosi. That was a large part, in fact, of their original strategy.

    On Iraq, Iran and terrorism, they clearly HAVE successfully fostered a fearful mindset.

    My conclusion, therefore, is that attempting to foster a fearful mindset is a key part of their political communications strategy. That doesn’t seem to me to be an unreasonable conclusion.

    I have commented elsewhere on the hysteria of environmental advocates and wondered whether that is, in fact, perceived as being the best way to get through to Americans nowadays (and no one can deny that the Republicans were, until their own malfeasance overtook them, very good at getting elected). As for Iran, there is clearly noise on both sides, but I don’t see that the people that fear that Bush plans to invade compare to the administration, who direct the nation’s intelligence-gathering operation and use that same information to ramp up fears of Iran’s actions based on what is apparently pretty poor evidence (which isn’t to say that I disbelieve that is claimed about Iran, just that I don’t have sufficient evidence to actively believe it and nor, apparently, do the administration).

    Additionally, you cannot compare, say, ‘environmentalists’ to ‘republicans’; one is a loose grouping by interest, the other is an organisation. You can certainly compare, say, ‘Greenpeace’ to ‘republicans’ and that would be fair, to my mind.

    Comment by Adam — 2/26/2007 @ 12:32 pm

  9. Nancy Pelosi has been demonized by the right for years. It was, according to Karl Rove and Newt Gingrich, an explicit strategy for this year’s house races to continually trot out two words “Speaker Pelosi” as a way of scaring middleground voters and ramping up their own base–that’s not according to me, that’s according to them. They tried towards the end days, but ultimately never found a solid enough footing to ever even get on the offensive. That doesn’t make the point baseless; as Adam says, it somewhat supports it.

    And, it continued after the fact as well (good summation here, and in particular click through to some of the blog bits that link to that piece; another good one).

    But, to make the point even more broadly, Speaker Pelosi was meant to represent (and was by no means conceived in September 2006) as a way to send chills down the collective spine of America that the Democratic leadership was wildly fringe (“San Fransisco values” is a popular phrase of right-wing commentators in reference to Pelosi) and, given the chance, would steer the country either with some kind of crazed lunatic vision, or right into the ground.

    The reality has been that Pelosi, thus far (it is, as you very rightly point out, way too early to give any kind of concrete assessment of her, but that concrete assessment, in some quarters, began even before she took over the Speakership, which is what Newt Gingrich and Karl Rove were talking about, and it is not too early to see indications that seem to give credence, or take it away, from those ridiculously preemptive assessments/predictions) has been competent, has made risky decisions (but not necessarily bad ones), has side-stepped a lot of easy incoming pitfalls, and has advanced an agenda that is wildly mainstream (the lowest approval rating of any bit of her First 100 Agenda was something like 65%, her own approval ratings are far far more “mainstream” than the last incoming speakers (and Newt Gingrich, btw, WAS talked about, quite frequently, as the greatest political architect of the modern era immediately after he came to power in 1994, despite the fact that his own approval ratings were and have always been pretty dismal), and, by and large, the new congressional leadership is trusted over the old and current Republican leadership by nearly a 2 to 1 margin, on even such red meat things like the War on Terror. So much of that is, of course, a honeymoon period effect (first woman speaker, yadda yadda yadda), but we can at least, at this early juncture, call what it has NOT turned out to be–a national vision of Nancy Pelosi that jibes with the national vision of Nancy Pelosi as characterized by the GOP. Hell, if you want another analogue, compare her First 100 Hours to Bill Clinton’s First 100 Days. Or, compare the talk about what a liberal whackjob Nancy Pelosi is to the Republican gleeful mud-wrestling about what a lunatic loose cannon Howard Dean was going to be as head of the DNC, and how he was sure to run the party into the ground electorally and whose election to chairman was to be suicide for the Democratic party. Oops.

    One of the more amusing quotes after Pelosi’s First 100 Hours successes was by Roy Blunt, and I think it sums up the Republican relationship to their version or reality, with what the public thinks.

    “The Democrats will soon have to move from these issues that poll at 80, 90 percent to issues that really matter.”

    Presumably away from 911, minimum wage, tax structures, stem cell research, ethics reform, and energy policy, and towards flag burning, gay marriage, abortion, social security, and the like. You know, the issues that really matter. Not the issues that 80 to 90% of the public support, but the real ones.

    Ultimately though, I’m not trying to go too far with this. Just wanting to point out that, like the paper tigering of Howard Dean at DNC, “Speaker Pelosi” hobgoblining over the years also does not appear to be coinciding much with reality. Early yet, of course, but even the Republican spin-masters appear to be coming to the same conclusion. Perhaps, then, we shouldn’t take them seriously in the future when they again start judging for America what is and is not in its mainstream, what is and is not important, or when they begin casting spurious aspersions on who is and is not a fringe liberal whackjob incompetent who is going to pull the machinations of government down around all our ears.

    Okay, that last one was a bit of straw manning, but still. :)

    Comment by Brad — 2/26/2007 @ 6:04 pm

  10. To add one more thing to the broader point here that I’m kind of picking at a bit, the gulf between the conventional wisdom of where the country is on certain things, and the reality, grew pretty large in the last couple of years. Nancy Pelosi is just a very tiny flashpoint of that.

    To give a larger one, write down your impressions of what a “centrist, middle American” position on Iraq might be, currently, given the impressions you might receive from the president, congress, and the media. I’ll give you all a minute.

    Done? Okay, now compare that to the most recent actual data on what the mainstream, majority (and thus centrist) middle American positions actually ARE.

    The majority of Americans…

    …overwhelmingly support congressional action to cap the number of U.S. troops in Iraq and set a timetable to bring them home by the end of next year, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds tougher action than the non-binding resolution the House of Representatives is to begin debating today.

    Some more findings:

    # There is majority support for congressional action on Iraq: 51% back a non-binding resolution, 57% a cap on troop levels and 63% a timetable to withdraw all U.S. troops by the end of 2008.

    # The Senate’s failure to act last week rankled nearly two-thirds of those surveyed. By 51%-19%, they blamed Republicans.

    # Seven of 10 say their representative’s vote on the war will affect their vote in the next congressional election; more than four in 10 call it a major factor.

    These are not outliers. These are not data without real-world electoral evidence. These numbers have not been varying, save to continually skew more and more towards what is routinely characterized as the “fringe liberal” position.

    I know you all must be sick of hearing it, but if you had to peg a current presidential candidate closest to the American center on Iraq, it would probably be John Edwards. And if you want to talk about fringe, Harry Belafonte is probably closer to the American center (on Iraq and Iraq only) than John McCain.

    What has been and remains interesting to me is that bizarre disconnect between reality and conventional (or politically pushed) wisdom. The Pelosi thing is only a very small (and perfectly understandable, given its success from say 1998 to 2003) smear in a much larger picture, of a Republican party that isn’t just wrong about where the rest of the country stands, but is downright counter-reality. The Democrats, for the record, are way behind the curve on where the public stands also, but the problem is particularly acute with the GOP, especially given their proclivity to constantly speak for everybody.

    We know what the American public thinks about Iraq. We know what the American public thinks of the Democratic majority. We know what the American public thinks of the Republican minority, and the president. We have a fair bit of objective measures for the electoral success of Howard Dean. We know what the American public thinks of Nancy Pelosi. The American public has not been coy about stating these opinions, and the opinions aren’t all that ambiguous.

    Given that, it’s ridiculously easy to point out where the Republican line of how the country feels departs wildly from the actual feelings of the country (or, in cases such as effectiveness measured by leadership ability or electoral success, by those metrics). It’s shooting fish in a barrel, perhaps, and of course it’s a pretty basic political ploy (though particularly acute with the GOP since their brief moment of mega-majority support in 2002), but I’m not above fish-shooting, as we all know.

    Comment by Brad — 2/26/2007 @ 6:14 pm

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