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I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Beltway attacks on Nancy Pelosi

The mindless group-think driving the media's caricatures of Nancy Pelosi is truly astounding to behold, even considering the source. She's not even Speaker yet, and they've already pronounced her to be a bitchy, vindictive shrew incapable of leading because she's consumed by petty personal bickering rather than serious and substantive considerations. And all of this is based on nothing.

Unsurprisingly, all of this has been concocted by the herd of all-knowing Beltway analysts who fancy themselves to be such high-minded warriors against conventional wisdom even though they are its most obedient vessels.

Over at New Republic's The Plank, we learn that the election of Steny Hoyer as Majority Leader "is a real embarassment (sic) for Nancy Pelosi" and that to have any chance to "move past" this towering defeat she must "resist her tendency to seek payback against apostates" (Michael Crowley); "Pelosi looks pretty bad right now" (Jason Zengerle); and, in short, "this was a disaster for Pelosi all the way around" (Christopher Orr). And oh - the great and powerful Tom "Hammer" Delay (who pioneered the art of punishing apostates) would never have allowed something like this to happen.

Their overseer, Marty Peretz, surveys his decades-deep familiarity with American politicians and decides that Pelosi reminds him of . . . . . of all people . . . . Bella Abzug. After he notes the many important and serious differences between the two -- "Pelosi is rather svelte, which Bella was not. Pelosi also doesn't wear a big-brimmed hat" -- he says that neither of these women can "discern between a political difference and a personal war. So if it was the former, it quickly also became the latter." Says Peretz of Pelosi: she "cannot separate personal from political differences. And where Pelosi's vanity goes, there, apparently, the House Democrats will follow."

At Slate, Timothy Noah has a column entitled "Dump Pelosi," in which he generously decrees: "Let Pelosi remain speaker for now. But let her know that, before the new Congress even begins, she has placed herself on probation." Noah warns her: "One more strike—even a minor misstep—and House Democrats will demonstrate that they, unlike Speaker-elect Pelosi and President Bush, know how to correct their mistakes."

This is everywhere, permeating all aspects of the media. Digby describes a particularly giggly version of it on MSNBC last night. These sweeping condemnations of Pelosi all arise out of two -- and only two -- incidents: (1) her support for Jack Murtha over Steny Hoyer as Majority Leader and (2) her opposition to Jane Harman becoming Chair of the House Intelligence Committee.

It is painfully obvious that Pelosi supported Murtha for one very simple and extremely common reason -- because unlike Hoyer, with whom she has a tense and uncomfortable working relationship and with whom she has worked at cross-purposes in the past, Murtha is her ally and supporter. Murtha held a blogger conference call a couple of days ago and in response to every question, he repeatedly emphasized that his intention was to concentrate on Iraq and that in all other areas, he would "do what Nancy wants." He's a Pelosi loyalist and ally and so she supported him for that job over someone who isn't.

Is that supposed to be unusual? That's how all of Washington works. It's how the world works. Here is what Peggy Noonan said in her column today about how the Bush administration operates and why Mel Martinez was made RNC Chair rather than Michael Steele:

I am taken aback this week at the level of disenchantment with and dislike of the president and his men--not among Democrats, but among Republicans. On the Hill they no longer see the White House as talented and formidable. They see it as shuttered and second-rate. . . . .

There is increased criticism too of the habit of high White House staffers to muscle critics, silence dissent, force obedience.

It is assumed by everyone, and accepted as truth that hardly needs expression, that the brilliant and independent Michael Steele was not chosen as head of the RNC for the simple reason that he doesn't look like someone who'd simply take orders. Mel Martinez was chosen for the reason that he will. I heard talk of what is called "the list"--the lengthening White House list of those who are to be treated as enemies.

The Bush administration has spent six years completely obsessed with personal loyalty to the President and intolerant of the slightest independence. The entire Congress was kept strictly in line for the last five years. Every official who showed the slightest independence was replaced by obedient Bush loyalists. Yet Pelosi does nothing other than support an ally rather than an opponent for the position immediately underneath her, and that makes her some out-of-control egomaniac consumed by personal vanity and emotional impulses.

And that's to say nothing of the fact that the Hoyer-Murtha race is being depicted as some sort of sign of hateful Democratic in-fighting that shows Pelosi has lost control, even though Republicans are mauling each other for every single House leadership position, all of which are hotly contested. Trent Lott beat Lamar Alexander by a vote of 25-24 in the Senate for the position of Minority Whip. There's nothing wrong with various factions competing for leadership positions. That's called an "election," and only those to whom Eric Alterman refers as the "smart boys" at TNR and Slate would view a simple election for House Majority Leader as some apocalyptic sign that Democrats are lame, idiotic and hopelessly divided. I'm sure Mark Halperin agrees with all of their attacks.

And then there is Pelosi's opposition to Jane Harman. It's now an article of Beltway faith that Pelosi opposes Harman because of what is being referred to as a personal "cat fight" between them, arising out of purely personal issues (like they both wore the same dress to a Capitol Hill event and Pelosi has never forgiven Harman). At Slate, Noah claims that the reasons for "Pelosi's animus are cloudy and in all likelihood personal."

I'd like to see proof that Pelosi's opposition to Harman is purely or even principally personal. I keep hearing this from them, but what is it based on? Personally, I think Harman -- who was one of the most aggressive defenders of the President's warrantless eavesdropping program ("both legal and necessary," she repeatedly chimed) and is currently under investigation for her work on behalf of AIPAC -- would make a horrendous Chair (although Alcee Hastings is one of the few House members who might be less desirable). She has been far too sympathetic to the administration's excesses and far too eager to serve as a Democratic shield publicly defending the President.

How do these all-knowing analysts know that Pelosi's opposition to Harman isn't based on these obvious and compelling substantive grounds, as opposed to the bitchy personal "cat fights" they allegedly have had? They don't know, but they keep repeating it anyway, because it seems to fit comfortably with a picture they are very eager to paint.

In fact, Noah himself references a column by what he calls "his friend Ruth Marcus, an op-ed columnist at the Washington Post,"which claims that Pelosi thinks that Harman has been "insufficiently partisan on the committee." That's the opposite of the claim being advanced everywhere that Pelosi opposes Harman for purely personal, substance-free reasons. They just make things up in order to bolster their group-driven collective imagination, and then present their group gossip as authoritative and established insider wisdom.

And, even if Pelosi's opposition to Harman were due more to personal animosity than it is to substantive disagreements, is there some suggestion that this is an unusual attribute among political leaders -- or human beings anywhere? Washington is full of all sorts of personal conflicts and animosity that drive personnel decisions of every type, yet somehow and for some reason, in Pelosi it's depicted as some unique and glaring flaw. It's worth wondering why that is.

Americans just elected new leadership quite deliberately. They are obviously fine with Nancy Pelosi. Republicans tried to make the election be about her -- constantly reminding everyone that a vote for Democrats would mean installing super-liberal Nancy Pelosi and her San Francisco values in power -- and the Democrats won. So voters have no problem with Pelosi. They want Congressional Democrats to take the lead in policy and governance because the Republicans have failed so miserably. I have no idea whether Pelosi will be a good Speaker, but I'm going to withhold judgment until she actually at least starts, and Americans are obviously doing that as well.

Yet the Beltway media mavens know better, and so they are already out in force attacking Pelosi's character with petty and baseless chattering. This country has extremely serious issues facing it, and yet these self-styled "serious" journalists are already trying to cripple Pelosi's ability to do anything before she has even begun, all based on giggly chit-chat and gossipy garbage that has no legitimacy other than the fact that they all repeat it in unison on television and in print.

It's what these pundits and journalists do. They have pre-conceived, vapid notions about everything and everyone -- all driven by deep self-love for their own superior wisdom -- and they distort reality and crowd out sober analysis of everything that matters. Nancy Pelosi, and really everyone, would be well-advised not to listen to them and, above all, never adopt as a goal trying to please or satisfy them. They are frivolous and out of touch with everything that matters and should be treated as such.

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