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Nancy Pelosi for Minority Leader | The Nation

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Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Politics, current affairs and riffs and reflections on the news.

Nancy Pelosi for Minority Leader

I like fighters. I especially like intelligent, women fighters and Nancy Pelosi certainly fits that bill. The savvy, gutsy House speaker has announced her intention to run for Minority Leader in the next Congress, and I hope the Dems get their act together and elect her.

Pelosi knew exactly what she wanted to accomplish as speaker and she laid that agenda out clearly when I interviewed her in July 2008. Her three priority pieces of legislation—"Jobs, healthcare and energy."

And that's just what a politically diverse House Democratic caucus pulled off under her progressive leadership.

It passed a healthcare bill that included a public option, and taxed the wealthy rather than workers' benefits. And when the bill looked all but dead no one fought harder to revive it than she did. It passed a larger stimulus bill than the Senate and bolder jobs bills. And it passed an energy bill that capped carbon. In all, more than 400 House bills weren't even voted on by a meek Senate straitjacketed by the filibustering GOP and enough conservative Democratic accomplices.

Pelosi always seemed to know exactly who she's fighting for. Her judgment is good: exit polls suggest Democrats would have fared far better this election if they had followed her lead and made job creation a priority.

"My view in politics is deeply rooted in how I was raised in politics: it's all about economics," she told me. "They are sucking the money out of the middle class to the advantage of the wealthiest people in our country. This is like a hundred years ago, the Gilded Age and everything that went with that in terms of unfairness to working families. I think there is that much at risk. We have to respect industries in our country, but they cannot call the shots about what we're going to do about global warming, about healthcare, about fairness in our economy."

Pelosi never underestimated the political risks of her aggressive agenda but didn't let it stop her. She told The Nation's Christopher Hayes that Washington, DC, is "the city of the perishable. When you got the vote, you take the vote."

But one thing she didn't count on was a monolithic Party of No in the Senate. Like President Obama, she seemed to have some faith that there would be reasonable people across the aisle. "They'll have to search hard and long for some Republicans who will want to stand in the way of progress," she told me.

But she got that wrong. As a result, there is little appreciation for the legislation Pelosi managed to advance—legislation which would have moved this country forward and possibly preserved a Democratic majority in the House.

Instead she is now being pilloried by all the right people—from the Tea Party to the Blue Dogs to the Republican rank and file. The GOP spent an astounding $50 million attacking her in the run-up to the midterms. And too many politicians from both parties have a problem with the woman who shattered the "marble ceiling" of the US Capitol and became an icon of female power.

Opportunistic corporate Democrats want a party that is GOP-lite and they are using the midterm results to try to move in that direction. But if Democrats want to give the American people a real choice when it comes to governing, then this woman who doesn't quit (in contrast to the ex–governor of Alaska) is the right choice.

As Congress returns for its lame duck session, Pelosi can show her moxie by fighting for a stand alone extension of the middle-class tax cuts with no compromise on allowing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy to expire. She'd also be wise to expose Republican hypocrisies—like simultaneous demands for budget cuts and increased spending on an already bloated defense budget.

As the GOP is revealed for an agenda that is 80 percent indictment and 20 percent plan, Pelosi would be ready to strike as minority leader. Remember, this is the same woman who spoke out against the Iraq War resolution—citing a lack of evidence of any imminent threat—at a time when it was considered political suicide for anyone with party leadership ambitions. She would also be a savvy strategist as the Democrats work to hold the line against Republican efforts to repeal healthcare and financial reform.

Let the Blue Dogs whimper all they want to, their caucus will be dwarfed by the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) in the next Congress. The CPC with Leader Pelosi have the potential to draw sharp lines of contrast with the GOP, expose conservative catering to corporate interests and pursue an inside-outside strategy with progressive groups to help define the direction for this next rough period.

Congressman George Miller called Pelosi "one of the toughest people in politics today" who "accomplished more than any other speaker in history."

It's that toughness and proven leadership that Democrats--and this country--need more than anything right now.

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