The Most Powerful Woman in American Politics
Matthew JAMISON | 25.11.2016 | WORLD

The Most Powerful Woman in American Politics

The US Democratic Party is facing an existential crisis that it has not confronted in many generations. With Donald Trump’s win in the absurd and undemocratic Electoral College (though Hillary Clinton leading him in the overall number of votes cast by a whopping 2 million) and the Republican Party in control of the House of Representatives and Senate along with the majority of State legislatures and Governorships, the Democrats as a national and Party at the federal, state and local level, are at rock bottom. Now soon to be leaderless at a national level with Barack Obama leaving the White House and Hillary Clinton at the end of her political career, the Democrats are in need now more than ever of strong and experienced Congressional leadership.

The current leader of the Democratic Party in the House of Representatives is the San Francisco Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi. I still remember the day vividly back in November 2002 when Mrs. Pelosi was elected House Minority Leader and with it became the highest-ranking woman in American politics. I was just one month into my first term studying history at Cambridge University at the age of 18. It was one of those lovely, dreamy autumnal days in Cambridge and I was sitting in the library of the History Faculty. The Seeley Library was one of the most bizarre architectural creations, one of those designs from the 1960s when most architects seemed to be on drugs. It looks like a Stalinist spaceship and is so badly designed that due to it’s glass structure was always too cold during the winter and too hot during the summer.

The Democrats had just suffered a drubbing during the mid-term Congressional elections with President Bush’s party bucking the historical trend for the first time since FDR that an incumbent Presidents party normally losses seats rather than gains them in a mid-term Congressional election. The political context back then was the drum beat to war against Iraq which was being played for all it was worth politically by Bush and the Republicans in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 and in the thick of the Bush administration’s propaganda campaign asserting that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq possessed WMD and posed a clear and present danger to the national security of the United States and the world. The former Democrat House Leader Dick Gephardt resigned in early November and the first woman to lead a major American party on Capitol Hill and so become the highest ranking female politician in American history emerged as his replacement. That was 14 years ago and Nancy Pelosi at the age of 76 is still going strong and a force to be reckoned with. Congresswoman Pelosi is now facing her second challenge to her position as House Democratic Leader from little known Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan.

Nancy Pelosi has served in Congress since 1987. Before that she was Chairwoman of the California Democratic Party. Married to a wealthy San Francisco businessman, Mrs. Pelosi grew up in a political family in Maryland where her father was Mayor of Baltimore. Having moved to the West Coast and the sunshine state Mrs Pelosi opted to raise her family first of all before standing for election to Congress sin her own right. At 76 Nancy Pelosi is still full of energy and shows no sign of slowing down. In an age where everyone, especially millennials, seem to be constantly on the lookout and searching for the next bright, new, shiny fade, Mrs. Pelosi represents experience over shallow, naive youth. She has also shown herself to be one of the most skilled and masterful legislators.

Mrs. Pelosi not only became the first female House Leader in 2002 while the Democrats where in the minority, three years later she became the first female Speaker of the House leading her party back to power with a substantial «wave» majority in the lower chamber. Unlike the Republican Party, she has always demonstrated that when in opposition she would lead a constructive opposition rather than a destructive opposition. It was Nancy Pelosi who deserves much of the credit for driving through President Obama’s legislative agenda from 2009 onwards. As the President, himself recently said: «I cannot speak highly enough about Nancy Pelosi». The President acknowledged that it was due to Pelosi’s «smarts, her tenacity, her legislative skill» that «so much of what we accomplished" was possible.

As Speaker of the House in the first two years of the Obama administration which were the most productive Nancy Pelosi did indeed achieve a lot in Congress. She got a healthcare reform bill passed which included a Public Option and then rescued the entire package when it stalled in the Senate. She got a pro-climate change «Cap & Trade» Bill passed which then unfortunately died in the Senate. She got the Stimulus Bill passed and the bailouts for the automobile industry and the Dodd-Frank financial reform Bill. Indeed, she demonstrated greater strategic and tactical legislative and political nous than her counterpart in the Senate, Harry Reid. Having gotten a record number of Democrats elected in 2006 and 2008 to the House sadly the Dems lost their majority in 2010 due to a backlash against President Obama and his «Affordable» Healthcare Act.

It was Mrs. Pelosi who made the passage of a Bill to reform the horrid and grotesque American «healthcare» industry possible, and if it had of been down to her with her original Public Option, then such a reform package would probably have been truly transformational. Alas, it was Speaker Pelosi who took the political hits for this by losing the Speakership after only 4 brief but intensely productive years wielding the gavel. The Democrats have never held the majority since then. In particular, in 2014, the Republicans were returned to the House with their largest majority since 1928, thanks in part to the Obama administrations bungled and botched rolled out of Obamacare, and again proved incapable of making major inroads in 2016. After the 2010 «shellacking» election Mrs. Pelosi faced her first leadership challenge from North Carolina «blue dog» Democratic Congressman Heath Shuler.

This she easily saw off. Now, after six years in the minority, Mrs. Pelosi is being challenged once again. The argument against the Congresswoman and former Speaker is an understandable one. Nancy Pelosi has been leader of the Democrats in the House of Representatives for 14 years now, ten of which have been spent in the minority. She has won only four out of nine election cycles as Leader. She is 76 and some caucus members feel it is time for a generational freshening up. There is also the fact that Nancy Pelosi is an unashamed, unabashed San Francisco liberal, and one of the wealthiest members of the Congress. After the drubbing that the Democrats have received at Congressional, State and Local levels over the last six years, some Democrat Representatives fell she is not the best ambassador for the party to be able to re-connect with blue-collar Reagan Democrats and as the Republicans have relentlessly caricatured her as a California «limousine liberal» who exemplifies an out of touch coastal elite.

I, like President Obama, would disagree with this assessment. It is indeed true that when an American political party no longer controls the White House the national spotlight falls more intensely on it’s Congressional leadership, particularly in mid-term Congressional election years. The Democrats have got a major fight on their hands to refashion their coalition beyond the Obama coalition and reach out and reconnect with the white working class in the small towns and rust belt of the American heartland. Yet, they also have a major challenge on their hands to hold to account the Trump administration and it’s legislative agenda on Capitol Hill. They are going to need to muster every ounce of their political intelligence and abilities to stay relevant in the Congress and make their voices heard while doing everything they can to safeguard the progress that has been made under the Obama administration. This will require tried and tested legislative leadership and deep, experienced knowledge of the legislative system, particularly when it comes to the intricacies of budget battle, legislative rules and procedure and tactics. Some voters might think experience counts for nothing when it comes to Government and legislating. Some voters want an experienced doctor to treat them and would never countenance putting their health and life in the hands of a novice with zero medical training, experience and credentials. Yet, when it comes to the complex and technical matters of Government and legislation they eschew experience and go for entertainment. Never before has this been more starkly and disturbingly illustrated than the recent Presidential election. 

Hillary Clinton was probably one of the most experienced and highly credentialed persons to ever run for the office and job of President (yes voters – it is a job, not just a performance). Yet many millions decided to elect a man with the least political and governing experience in the history of the American Republic, a man with zero experience of the Executive Branch of Government, the military, the Congress or any other public office. Time alone will tell how this experiment pans out but the portents are foreboding. So, for Democrats on the Hill, this is no time for a novice and on the job training. Nancy Pelosi knows how to win back the House. She has done it before and perhaps given time she will be able to do it again. She certainly knows how to get legislation passed in an ever increasingly gridlocked and dysfunctional Congress. She has decades worth of experience and knowledge dealing with Republicans on Capitol Hill and knows how to fight them. She is also a prolific fundraiser having raised almost half a billion dollars for her party over the last decade.

If one thing is clear about America, as is true of the United Kingdom, it is very much the United States of Money and the United Kingdom of money. Everything in America revolves around money, including, worryingly it’s democracy. Nancy Pelosi has the contacts and the network to raise the vast sums that will be needed for the war chests of 2018 and 2020. With her sunny Californian disposition, gorgeous smile and ever so slightly tipsy manner and sweet giggle she masks a razor sharp political brain. If she were to regain the Speakership the Democrats would need her wise policy making abilities. Nancy Pelosi should be re-elected House Democratic Minority Leader on November 30th. With this election youth and inexperience should be given a pass for maturity and wisdom.

Tags: Democratic Party  UK  US  Clinton 

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