Saturday, April 14, 2007

The First 100 Days of the 110th Congress

Friday marked the close of the first 100 days of the 110th Congress. But lets be honest – when we look at the first hundred days, the focus is on Nancy Pelosi, the first woman to hold the position of Speaker of the House of Representatives.

It turns out that Speaker Pelosi disappointed some, surprised others, and confirmed the faith that the rest of us had in her abilities and acumen from the outset. Liberals who expected camaraderie and solidarity have often been disappointed that a steamroller-agenda hasn’t been unleashed on the Republican Party, and they say she's a poor listener. Conservatives who expected her to be non-receptive to their concerns say listening is one of her better skills.

The defining issue, of course has been that of funding the war. And there is where the natural politician shone through. Democrats are a diverse party. It has always been infinitely more difficult to keep a consensus among a Democratic caucus than a Republican caucus. Democrats by definition are less dogmatic and doctrinaire, and far more prone to exerting their independence on any given issue.

A case in point to highlight the Speakers ability to form and hold together a caucus would be convincing Earl Blumenauer, a Democrat from Portland Oregon who opposed the war and had never, prior to the recent vote, cast a single yea on any legislation that supported the Iraq war.

"She convinced me," said Blumenauer, whose vote helped give Pelosi her most important legislative victory. "For me, there was no attempt at pressure. I was able to convey my concerns. She was there. She was listening."

Pelosi's performance on the war spending bill highlighted what has become her signature: an aggressive leadership style that seeks to put Congress on par with the White House and prove that her notoriously fractious party can indeed govern.

A lot of people “misunderestimated” the speaker as a “San Francisco Liberal.” They forget that her father was Mayor of Baltimore and a U.S. Congressman representing the city. She grew up reading the Congressional Record and Roll Call. Machine Politics went on around her kitchen table. Make nop mistake – she keeps a totebook of political favors – but she remembers birthdays, anniversaries, Bar Mitzvahs and christenings, too.

As minority leader, she kept a diverse and disparate party together. Without her steady hand, last November might not have turned out quite so well for the Democrats. But as Speaker, she appears to be in the role she was born to fill.

"She has elevated her game, which is exactly what you have to do," said Rep. Adam Smith of Washington, a leader of the moderate New Democrats. "She is a lot better leader as speaker than she ever has been."

The woman was a stay-at-home mother of five – and she runs the chamber the way successful moms run households. She doesn’t reward tantrums, she knocks the wind out of the sails of those who get “too big for their britches,” she makes small concessions to get the whiners to shut up, and she not only assigns chores, she follows up on the brats she assigns them to.

The Republicans have, for the most part, been reduced to criticizing her through non-issues. Issues like the flap over her military plane for trips back to the district. She didn’t request it, the Sergeant of Arms for the House did. And she is required to have that access as the second in line to the presidency. They new that, they just couldn't resist priming the Wurlitzer.

Then there was the determination by many to smear her recent trip to Syria and Saudi Arabia. Everyone piled on, from the big-three networks to the editorial page of the Washington Post. Dick Cheney dropped the drive-by slander that we “don’t need 535 Secretaries of State.” (No Dick, but we sure as hell could do with one. Got anyone in mind? The position has been vacant since General Powell retired.)

Speaker Pelosi has weathered that storm as well, and looking a hell of a lot better when her trip is stacked up side-by-side with that stunt contrived by the McCain-Graham-Pence clown college field-trip to the Shorja market. At least 21 people were not rounded up and executed after she completed her visit.

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