Stick with a Winner

Becky O'Malley
Friday November 30, 2018 - 09:04:00 AM

Well, it looks like Nancy Pelosi is headed for another term as speaker. She got the endorsement of House Democrats this week, with a few rightish-leaning spoilsports casting what were essentially protest votes. It would be—over-used word—amazing, in the true sense, if the same surly suckers jumped ship and voted with the Republicans in the actual speaker election next week.

These anti-progressives already have a couple of ringleaders, both distinguished by how undistinguished they are. They are from two branches of the Democratic tradition, each manifesting his own brand of entitlement. 

Seth Moulton is from the old school Massachusetts patrician class, exemplified by the Kennedy family, John Kerry and many more of their ilk. He actually went to Andover and Harvard, topping off with a Harvard MBA with a side of Marine Corps.  

Bred to rule, right? Time was when that resume guaranteed you a shot at being president. 

Presumably this background is what gives him the— what in other contexts might be called— chutzpah to believe that two terms in Congress without his name on any meaningful legislation qualify him to replace a woman believed by many to be the most skillful congressional leader they’ve ever seen. His district does include Salem, a place which historically had a negative take on powerful women. 

Tim Ryan is another shade of smug. His district includes Akron, where I went to Get Out the Vote in 2016. Campaign workers in our part of town, which we carried comfortably, were primarily the kind of middle-aged (and older) African-American women who have the deserved reputation of being the backbone of political effort in lots of winning races. I did notice that the muckety-muks who hung around the courthouse without doing much work were prototypical old white guys, not to indulge in identity politics or anything, of course 

Some of these local honchos were young white guys like Ryan. He went to Youngstown State University on a football scholarship, an achievement which sometimes creates a sense of entitlement in males. He makes nice with the increasingly ineffective unions. 

His Wikipedia bio does not credit him with any legislative achievements. But he too seems to think he deserves to knock off Pelosi. 

Oh please! What are people like this thinking? 

In my on-again-off-again involvement in electoral politics, I’ve often ruefully observed that Our Side Can’t Count. All too often my team has been the 47 percenters, so close and yet so far.  

What’s different about Pelosi is that she can count. That’s why she was able to cobble together enough votes to pass the Affordable Care Act, often called Obamacare but which more accurately should be Pelosicare.  

This might be because she had a whole first career as the mother of five children before she entered politics. With a lot of kids you do have to be able to count, as I know from watching my aunts juggle six and seven respectively. Yes, I expect there were nannies and possibly housekeepers and even cooks. But that develops management and delegation skills, and her children turned out well. 

Since no one has cast any specific aspersions on Pelosi’s effectiveness in the speaker’s job, what’s up with the naysayers? 

There’s a phenomenon familiar to many women who are in managerial positions after they’ve passed the age of 40. All too often they go from being the office pet to being the Old Witch—youthful charm is helpful for women, but if they have power when they’re older it frightens co-workers, men and even other women. 

Nancy Pelosi annoys both as a woman and by being by some standards too old, even though she’s done a bang-up job until now. It’s no surprise that those trying to dump her are young men plus the occasional woman. Their main argument seems to be “Now it’s my turn!”, rather like small children fighting over access to a swing.  

(On the local scene, we see their counterparts: the YIMBYs who whine that society owes them homes in the Bay Area like those their middle class parents provided for them back in Philly or Topeka. They're eager to hustle Boomers off to the old folks home to get their houses.) 

In the last couple of weeks Pelosi has frequently been quoted as saying that nobody gives you power, you have to take it. What she hasn’t taught her young challengers is exactly how you go about that. 

I always told my own children that if nobody seems to be in charge, you are—advice which is handy in all kinds of chaotic situations. But the reverse case, when somebody is definitely running the show, is more complicated.  

The advantage that old people like Nancy Pelosi and me have over younger people is that we’ve been 40, but they’ve never been 78, or anything in between. The older I get, the more I appreciate what I’ve learned through doing many different things, having several kinds of jobs, living various places. It’s hard to experience that kind of learning vicariously. 

It is a real shame that just as Barack Obama has had a chance to learn a few things the hard way, he’s barred from future shots at the presidency. I admire the kind of vigorous young person he was when he first ran, but I think he might be wiser now. Having made a few mistakes, he might have learned from them and done even better. 

That’s why I think an Elizabeth Warren or a Bernie Sanders or even an Al Gore could legitimately be considered for president. Younger people grouse about Baby Boomers, but let’s hear about some viable candidates in their sixties if there are any. It’s easy to like fresh-faced newbies like Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, but they need time to ripen and learn. 

But back to Pelosi. I met her only once, at a 2016 campaign party that was small enough that I managed to get her ear for a nanosecond. For some reason I asked about an Ohio campaign that my Akron buddy was working on, an obscure state race that she had no reason to know anything about. Instantly, without missing a beat, she produced a shrewd fact-based statistical prediction that turned out, come election day, to be spot on. 

Her most recent achievement was using her coattails in the midterms to bring in eight new California congressional seats. I don’t have real data, but my personal anecdote is that I got a call before the election from T.J. Cox (whom I’ve never met), soliciting contributions for his 21st District campaign. I’d heard that one of the California candidates was dissing The Leader, and I didn’t want to support that person, so I asked Cox who he would vote for.  

“Pelosi of course”, he said. My kinda guy, so I promised him a modest sum. I bet many more California progs did the same—there was a big story in the Fresno Bee about his support for her. Cox’s race was just called in his favor, and you can bet Pelosi’s backing, both endorsement and funding, put him over the top. 

I seriously doubt that Moulton or Ryan could do the same, and I don't want to give them the chance to prove me right.