As Peter Beinart writes in the Atlantic, Nancy Pelosi has been a tremendously effective legislative leader. When she was speaker, groundbreaking legislation got passed against heavy opposition. But the GOP has effectively turned her into a scarecrow, a villainous characature and an albatross around the neck of Democrats in redder districts with higher concentrations of Fox News victims.
These victories led Thomas Mann, who studies Congress at the Brookings Institution, to call Pelosi the “strongest and most effective speaker of modern times.” And even after being relegated to minority leader when Republicans took the House in 2010, she kept winning legislative fights.
Respect to Nancy Pelosi. Nevermind her gender, her age, her San Francisco district, her liberal beliefs, all of the virtues the right wing propagandists turn into vices.
However, politically you can’t just “nevermind” it. Pelosi’s demonization is real and poisonous. On the one hand, they’d do that to any Democratic leader, and will. On the other hand, it’s smart to neutralize it. We do have a recent example of how a political party neutralized the effect of a polarizingly partisan figure who really was a political pariah (alliteration intended).
In November 1998, when (1) Newt Gingrich had to resign because he was caught in an ethical trap (he took money and didn’t report it) and led the GOP to defeat in the ’98 midterms, and then (2) they handed the speakership to Bob Livingston, who had to resign a month later due to illicit affairs that came out (while they were trying to impeach Clinton for a blow job), the GOP was typically behind an eight ball of their own making. The next in line and the actual power in their caucus at that point, was “The Hammer” Texas Congressman and former pest control expert Tom DeLay, a truly vile human who even Republicans had to agree could not be speaker.
What DeLay did was work to have friendly, white haired, avuncular Denny Hastert, a benign Santa Claus of man, named speaker. Since then we’ve found out that Santa was an abuser of young men when he was a popular wrestling coach back home in illinois, but at the time he seemed like a perfect Norman Rockwell version of a midwestern grandfather. DeLay would run the Republican caucus and the House, but Hastert was the face of the party, DeLay’s beard.
Pelosi could take herself out of the running for being speaker if the Democrats get the House back. That would take her off the playing field as an effective boogie woman for the GOP. Find her a friendly beard to be speaker. Preferably one that wasn’t a wrestling coach.