Man Without Qualities

Friday, November 08, 2002

Ms. Pelosi, Meet Messrs. Kinnock and Foot

After it's first defeat at the hands of Mrs. Thatcher, the British Labour Party went through several rounds of - and several leaders - insisting that Labour's problem was that it had not distinguished itself enough from the Tories. The proffered solution was a move to the left. Messrs. Kinnock and Foot set about to accomplish the move, and they succeeded - Labour moved smartly left.

Labour also moved into ever more serious electoral defeats until its remains were salvaged by Tony Blair, playing largely from a book written by Bill Clinton. Rank and file Labour members have largely despised Mr. Blair from the beginning of his ascendency, but they live with him because he has shown that he can win.

The House Democrats have now chosen their own version of Kinnock and Foot in the form of Nancy Pelosi - a literal San Francisco Democrat. It is some measure of how big a step Ms. Pelosi's selection represents that not so long ago when the Democratic Leasership Council held greater sway, the term "San Francisco Democrat" was widely treated as a near synomym for "loser." Indeed, Bill Clinton's success in 1992 was largely attributed to his success in convincing the Democrat interest groups so forcefully represented by Ms. Pelosi to stay out of sight until after his election. At that point, those interest groups quickly emerged and the Clinton Administration attempted to deleiver to some extent. The results were chaos and political disasters culminating in the 1994 loss of the House by the Democrats, a loss that has continued ever since.

The pace of politics in the United States is generally faster than that in Britain - and my guess is that Ms. Pelosi is an evolutionary experiment that will quickly go the way of most adverse mutations. It is odd, for example, that the House Democrats have chosen as their leader a person from a state whose electoral returns were not consistent with the Republican surge seen in the rest of the country. Most likely, Ms. Pelosi's approach will lead to electoral results for the Democrats even more disatrous than those of the recent midterm elections and then her prompt ejection from the House leadership. Eventually, the Democrats will find their Tony Blair.

But her selection is significant and does carry real dangers for the country. There are many ways the Republicans can lose power almost regardless of their performance in office and almost regardless of Democrat leadership, policies or politics. The economy could tank. The coming war could hold nasty surprises. The Republicans could be wracked by scandals or infighting brought on by their success. If Ms. Pelosi and her kind - who, it seems likely, are only going to proliferate in the near future - are at the helm if and when such a power shift takes place, the nation will be in for a very destructive period.

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