The country wanted change, but not the kind a San Francisco Democrat would deliver.Nancy Pelosi speaks on Capitol Hill in 2015.(Photo: Mark Wilson, Getty Images)
Sure, Nancy Pelosican survive the challenge from Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, who wants her job leading House Democrats. But it would be so much better for her party if she shocked her caucus, which is set to vote by secret ballot on Wednesday, by stepping aside.
In the past, shes clearly found the idea that she should let someone else lead Democratsboth ageist and sexist and shes had a point, too. Four years ago, when NBCs Luke Russert asked her about whether her time was up, she asked him why no one ever thought to ask Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is 74 now, that quite offensive question.
Only, its not because Pelosi is 76 that its time for her to find other outlets for her talents, one of which is raising lashings of cash. And its certainly not because shes a woman.
Instead, its because Democrats in the House of Representatives havent been this few in number since 1929. They were expected to take 10 or 20 more seats this November, but instead saw a net gain of only half a dozen, and on Pelosis watch have lost a total of 60 seats over the last six years.
Though there are structural reasons for that slide since the GOP gerrymandering of 2010, her 43-year-old rival question is valid: How bad does it have to get, Tim Ryan asked, before his party stops pretending that more of the same will ever get a different result?
Working-class voters in the upper Midwest, where Ryan is from, didnt hear enough about their job losses and other economic problems and flipped their middle finger to the establishment, Ryan said. I am pulling the fire alarm right now, is what Im doing in the Democratic Party. I believe we are in denial of whats happened, and Im pulling the fire alarm because the house is burning down.
Heres what denial looks like: Just as Hillary Clinton has blamed FBI Director James Comeys Hamlet routine on the agencys email investigation for her loss, so, too has Pelosi, who has also said the problem was one of communications rather than policy. We cannot be taking the full responsibility for what happened in the election.
Yet the country wanted change, and neither she nor 77-year-old Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer represented that or were any help in the Rust Belt states where the election was decided.
Maybe its not fair that a Scott Brown can show up out of nowhere in his pickup truck and briefly claim what Democrats will long think of as Ted Kennedys Massachusetts Senate seat, but there are an awful lot of House districts in which Democrats need to do better where a Pacific Heights progressive in Armani just cant go.
Pelosi has accomplished so much in the 14 years shes been leading her party in Congress not only symbolically, as the first female House Speaker, but on the policy front, too. She pushed through the Affordable Care Act that Republicans will find far easier to rebrand than replace, and she helped make marriage equality what even President-elect Donald Trump refers to as settled law.
Its only human that she wants to stay in the fight to get her gavel back, but even as she agrees to change through Tim Ryan-inspired reforms like bringing newer members into leadership roles she also seems to be promising to keep doing exactly what shes been doing:
In the days since the election, I have been deeply grateful for the insights Members have shared with me, she said in a letterasking colleagues for their support. We have all been deeply moved by the stories and concerns of our constituents. They elected us to fight for their jobs, families and futures. We have and we will!
POLICING THE USA:Alook atrace, justice, media
As a baseball fan, maybe she could look to beloved players like David Ross and David Ortiz, who retired at the end of this season when they could easily have stuck around. Or as a Catholic, she could emulate Pope Benedict, who let go of power for the good of his church. As a politician, her Republican successor as Speaker, John Boehner, is a model he stepped down in 2015. (That is, he was a model until recently going to work for Big Tobacco.)
I have no reason to think she will follow any of these examples, just as I never thought Hillary Clinton would do anything other than what she did do, which was make sure rivals like Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren never even got into the race.
Pelosi, who was reportedly furious that the vote was put off until after Thanksgiving to give members a chance to think about where they go from here, is obviously taking the challenge seriously. And when Chris Wallace poked fun at her competition on Fox News Sundayfor being best known for hosting a Capitol Hill meditation group and pushing for mindfulness programs for school kids back in his Youngstown district, you had to wonder how threatened the California congresswoman feels.
There are reasons her party has such a weak bench, and though she says her whole career has been about electing other Democrats, Pelosi is now one of those reasons.
Melinda Henneberger,a political writer and a visiting fellow atCatholic University of America's Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies, is a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors. Follow her on Twitter@MelindaDC.
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