When the new House of Representatives of the 112th Congress convenes in January, one may wonder which legislators will emerge as the most important figures to lead the nation in a new direction. The presumptive speaker of the House, John Boehner, seems the natural choice, yet maybe a dynamic tea party favorite like Allen West will emerge as a dominant figure. But perhaps the most important member of the new House will be the same as the most important member of the old House: Nancy Pelosi. Pelosi seems to have swallowed whole the progressive fiction that the reason that Democrats lost control of the House in 2010 is that the party didn’t move left far enough or quickly enough. She is thus determined to hold onto her leadership position within the party, even though she’ll be trading in her speaker’s gavel for a minority leader’s rattle. Republicans should offer a prayer of thanks. Nothing will benefit the GOP more in the House than if Pelosi remains as the face of the opposition. She embodies the stark contrast between the small government policies that Republicans have been elected to implement and the big government, quasi-socialist policies of the last two years.
According to the progressive narrative, there is no point in being a middle-of-the-road Blue Dog Democrat. After all, didn’t twenty-four of fifty-eight members of the Blue Dog caucus lose their jobs in the past election? Michael Moore parroted the theory on Larry King Live shortly after the election:
I hope that, the lesson to learn is to see the more liberal you were if you were a member of Congress in last week’s election, the more likely it was that you got reelected. The conservative Democrats, the majority of them were booted out. The liberals won. [President Obama] should take this country in the progressive direction that he was elected to take it in.
It’s predictable that someone like Moore doesn’t understand the concept of swing districts and how his favorite party’s violent lurch to the left destroyed any chance of holding onto them. On the other hand, it’s a bit more surprising that a supposedly savvy old warrior like Pelosi could be equally deluded. And yet, there you have it. Rather than retreating quietly into the shadows, the San Francisco ultra-leftist has decided that she still wants to be the voice of her party in the House, despite reams of evidence that the nation is sick of her and tired of the ideology she represents. Pelosi remains wildly popular in a home district that’s as wildly as progressive as she, but that doesn’t translate into national support. Her approval ratings are disastrously weak, with over half of the county maintaining an unfavorable impression of the current Speaker according to Rasmussen.
Some Blue Dogs can see the writing on the wall that the recently concluded election represents. Most notably, North Carolina Representative Heath Shuler recently announced that he will challenge Pelosi for the Minority Leader’s position, although Shuler acknowledges that he doesn’t currently have the votes to do so. “I don’t have the numbers to be able to win, but I think it’s a proven point for moderates and the Democrat Party that we have to be a big tent,” Shuler said. “We have to be all-inclusive. We have to invite everyone into the party.”
Pelosi, like her Senate counterpart Harry Reid, has exposed the hypocrisy of that once-prized Democratic ideal – that of the “big tent” – beyond repair. If you favor less government, lower taxes, tighter control of immigration, anti-abortion legislation, strong foreign policy, states’ rights or the proposition that America is “one nation under God” then it’s quite clear that there is no room under “the tent” for you. Progressive Democrats drew a line in the sand with the election of Barack Obama in 2008. Or at least they thought they did. They believed that Obama election signaled the nation’s readiness to embrace the progressive agenda and, as importantly, to reject the extremist, conservative policies of George W. Bush.
But, therein lies the problem. Bush was never a right-wing extremist. Some of his harshest critics were those on the right, who believed that the forty-third president of the United States went way too far to placate the other side of the aisle. America didn’t reject conservatives in 2008, instead they voted against perceived incompetence, and then only just barely. Conservatives voted for McCain, liberals voted for Obama and the deciding factor, the independents in the middle, tilted toward the current president and his party because they believed – or rather they fervently wanted to believe – that they had found the kind mainstream leadership that would rise above politics and ideology that they so yearned for.
In 2010, independents acknowledged that they had gotten it terribly wrong. Rather than supporting a new way of thinking, their votes had replaced supposed incompetence with a single-minded leftist ideology that approached every problem the nation faced with two meager solutions in hand: print more money and blame George W. Bush. Neither message has much traction any more. Heath Shuler understands that, as do his fellow Blue Dogs. And Nancy Pelosi? She doesn’t have a clue, but then she never did. Pelosi is poised to remain the voice of the left in the House. Republicans could hope for nothing more.