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.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Nancy Pelosi - "Damaged Goods"?

Before Nancy Pelosi was even inaugurated as Speaker, the super-smart Washington punditocracy had all but declared her an absurd failure -- a figure far too weak, vindictive and just generally ridiculous to be able to get anything done. After all, she backed Jack Murtha rather than Steney Hoyer for Majority Leader and decided she didn't want Jane Harman as Intelligence Committee Chair, so her whole Speakership had unraveled before it even began.

CNN's Wolf Blitzer spoke behind onscreen text that read: "Damaged Goods"? Blitzer inquired: "how badly is Nancy Pelosi damaged politically?" In U.S. News & World Report, Gloria Borger accused Pelosi of "demeaning" her "exalted position" and said she "look[s] like a girl eager to 'get back' at the guy she didn't like." MSNBC had a lengthy giggling session devoted to nothing but hilarious mockery over what a silly failure Pelosi was (as Digby, who watched that segment, put it: they "have just spent half an hour discussing the fact that Nancy Pelosi ruined her own honeymoon and now it is really questionable whether she can lead").

Slate's Timothy Noah decreed: "Let Pelosi remain speaker for now. But let her know that, before the new Congress even begins, she has placed herself on probation." Noah warned 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." And the very-in-the-know New Republic commentators agreed heartily that Pelosi's first week had been a "real embarrassment" and a "disaster" and fretted in unison: "How can Pelosi recover?"

On and on that went for weeks -- the hapless Democrats burdened with this vindictive, bitter woman who had alienated everyone with her petty bickering to the point where her "ability to lead" was in question. And all of that wisdom solidified in mid-November, almost two full months before Pelosi was even Speaker.

Now that she has actually begun, how do those prognostications look? About as good as the punditocracy's prognostications about Iraq. From AP today:

New House Speaker Shows She's Boss

Sworn in just over two weeks ago as the first female speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi wasted no time showing who's boss.

The California Democrat rammed six major bills through the House at breakneck speed, stomped out smoking privileges near the House floor, partially sidelined a powerful Democratic committee chairman and decided she liked traditionally Republican office space so much she claimed it for herself.

By Democrats' timekeeping, she did it all in far under the 100 legislative hours she had allotted. . . .

Pelosi's initial agenda, completed Thursday, included measures with wide popular support: increasing the minimum wage, broadening stem cell research, allowing government bargaining on Medicare drug prices, cutting student loan costs, putting in place terrorism-fighting recommendations from the Sept. 11 commission and rolling back energy company tax breaks.

Each bill passed with bipartisan majorities and Pelosi triumphantly gaveled down the votes, at one point banging the gavel so enthusiastically that it left a small dent in the podium. . . .

Pelosi is held in higher regard than the president or her colleagues in the Congress. An AP-AOL News poll taken Jan. 16-18 put her approval rating at 51 percent — much higher than that of Congress (34 percent) or Bush (36 percent).

Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., a close ally, called Pelosi's performance "spectacular."

"What the Democrats in the caucus are telling me is that this is the best three weeks of their life," he crowed.

The article goes on to detail that even "Blue Dog" Democrats have nothing but good things to say about Pelosi, that she has been vigilant about complying with her various promises, and has even attracted the respect and compliments of various House Republicans, notwithstanding their being upset about their lack of influence:

Newly demoted Republicans have been able to do little but watch unhappily from the sidelines, echoing the complaint often made by Democrats during their 12 years in the minority: that they are being shut out of the legislative process.

Yet several GOP lawmakers said it hardly is surprising that Pelosi is flexing her muscles now that she is leading the Democrats' return to power.

"Speaker Pelosi worked a long time to earn this opportunity to be elected speaker, and she is totally enjoying her first month on the job," said Rep. Tom Reynolds, R-N.Y.

"It's not that she's the first woman, it's her style," he added. "She's a risk taker."

I wonder if Tim Noah took her off her two-strike probation yet.

The point here is not that Pelosi is the Greatest Speaker Ever. She has only been in office less than a month and any judgments about her Speakership would be absurdly premature (though less absurdly premature than the tidal wave of condemnations and even death sentences before she even began). But what is notable is just how vapid and ill-informed all of that chatter was that filled up the airwaves and conventional-wisdom-spouting newspaper and magazine columns for weeks and weeks after the midterm election.

As I wrote in November when the Pelosi-is-Damaged-Goods theme was in full force: "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." Obviously, Pelosi has learned that lesson a long time ago and it has served her quite well. There really are few things less reliable and more wrong than the country's predominant pundit class.

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