Tuesday, November 16, 2010

America's fastest-growing sport: Breaking bad on Nancy Pelosi . . .

Heath Shuler
Remember Representative Heath Shuler (D-N.C.) from his earlier stint in Washington as a not-very-successful quarterback for the seemingly perpetually floundering Washington Redskins? (Anyone else stare dumbfounded as last night's Monday Night Football game unfolded?)

That same Heath Shuler has now re-invented himself as a Blue Dog Democrat,  businessman and real estate investor. He was just re-elected for his second House term from North Carolina's 11th District, a swath of hilly land sprawling across the western part of the state that includes Asheville. Representative Shuler confirmed yesterday what he's been hinting for weeks: He's going to challenge Nancy Pelosi for leadership of the House Democratic Caucus. Why? Shuler terms Pelosi's continued leadership "unacceptable."

Consensus is that Shuler doesn't stand a chance of taking over the leadership of the House Democrats, but Congressman Shuler says the party would benefit from his more moderate (if less experienced) voice in the national debate. "We've got to be able to recruit," said Mr. Shuler. "We have to go into those moderate areas, those swing districts, and be able to get great recruits or get back those members of Congress that we lost, be able to have them on the ticket in 2012 to be able to win back the House. And I just don't see that path happening if we have her at the top of the leadership."

As Brad Knickerbocker writes in The Christian Science Monitor, Mr. Shuler's move to challenge Ms. Pelosi's leadership "reflects some party members' unease" with the current Speaker, even though  . . .
The first woman to hold the most senior position in the House, Pelosi is acknowledged to be one of the most effective Speakers in congressional history – both in terms of organizing her party’s troops and in getting her agenda passed.
Indeed, ever since Nancy Pelosi became the first woman Speaker of the House, bashing her has been almost as popular a sport in this country as Heath Shuler's former occupation, professional football.

Ms. Pelosi, being Ms. Pelosi, will not go gently into the good night of power loss -- or any other night, for that matter. She recently published an OpEd piece in USA Today, touting accomplishments of her party. I gave up trying to read the 699 comments before I found one that I would describe as civil, let alone positive. They generally rose to the intellectual level of catcalls at a pole-dancing club.

Early this morning, it was announced that the Congressional Black Caucus will withhold its support of Ms. Pelosi's re-election.

Okay, I can look at the bills Ms. Pelosi rode herd through Congress and see why she is not admired by Republicans. Nancy Pelosi is simply too successful at her job. But Democrats? Wasn't it Nancy Pelosi who actually coaxed some really effective work out of the the long fractured Congressional Democratic Caucus? Do Democrats so hate being effective that they'll boot out a person capable of organizing them effectively in favor of a failed professional football player?

Writing in New York Magazine, Vanessa Grigoriadis says of Ms. Pelosi. . .
There’s a knee-jerk aspect to much of the criticism of Pelosi, of course, because she is the most powerful woman in U.S. political history—and we know what the problem is with that. But even to liberals, Pelosi can come across as shrill, strident, too rich. Humorless, odd, tone-deaf. She’s a kind of Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland, imperious with her power and relishing her ability to attack ...
Hmmmm. As a woman who's worked for years in and around Old Boy turf, I want to ask Ms. Grigoriadis, since when was it a compliment to describe a Speaker of the House as soft-spoken, retiring, and poor? Anybody ever speak of Lyndon Johnson in those ways?

And here's what I want to ask you: Is it possible that Americans have simply startled themselves into some kind of conservative cultural panic by finding themselves led by a black President and a woman as Speaker of the House?

Charges of sexism and racism have, of course, been vigorously denied, but is it possible that people are to some extent profoundly uncomfortable with the new look of American leadership?

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