Things have been really depressing for progressives in the past few weeks. Democrats lost the U.S. House, and keeping a slim Senate majority was somewhat of a “gag prize” – as Harry Reid’s Senate has been a cesspool where progressive legislation goes to die. President Obama appears totally clueless about what message to take from this election – he even told reporters this week that he had not been bi-partisan enough.
But we got some good news yesterday, when House Democrats voted 150-43 to keep Nancy Pelosi on as Minority Leader – despite a challenge from Blue Dog conservative Heath Shuler. In the past two years, Pelosi has been far more assertive at pushing progressive policies than Obama or Reid – and it would have been tragic to see her take the fall. It also proved that House Democrats are angry about the lack of action, and chose to keep her in control. If Democrats make a comeback in 2012, it will be partially because they didn’t throw Nancy Pelosi under a bus.
The House Democratic vote to keep Pelosi (done by secret ballot) defied much historical precedent. When the party in power takes a shellacking like the Democrats just did this year, not only is there a “shake-up” in their caucus – but the House Speaker often resigns from Congress altogether. When Republicans lost their majority in 2006, Dennis Hastert resigned. Newt Gingrich quit a mere three days after the November 1998 elections, even though the Republicans had still kept a majority – but they did far worse than expected. And if Tom Foley had not lost re-election back in 1994, he would have resigned as well.
In fact, there had been talk in San Francisco circles that Nancy Pelosi was going to resign her seat and become the next Mayor – now that Gavin Newsom was elected Lieutenant Governor. But Pelosi made it clear that she fully intended to remain in Washington.
And she fully deserves to. In the past two years, the House passed health care reform with a public option, climate change reform, a tougher stimulus – only to see them go crashing down in the Senate, as Reid and Obama allowed Joe Lieberman ran the show. At the Netroots Nation conference in July, Pelosi made it clear how frustrated she was with the complete inaction in the Senate – “we don’t know what can pass the Senate … ever.”
Predictably, Republicans and corporate Blue Dogs wanted to kick Nancy Pelosi when she’s down – and blame her for the failures of others. But it was Pelosi who had pushed back against a defeatist Obama Administration – when they wanted to “scale back” health care reform after Democrats lost their 60th vote in the Senate. It was Nancy Pelosi who had engineered the Democratic takeover in 2006 – when others like Rahm Emanuel argued that the key was recruiting Blue Dogs like Heath Shuler.
The future still looks grim for progressives in 2011 – as the right-wing smells blood and wants to repeal any progress we made in the past two years. But with Nancy Pelosi still there as House Minority Leader, I have hope that Democrats won’t completely play dead.
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