I’m sure I’ve begun more than one post with something to the effect that once again, Paul Krugman has hit the nail right on the head. Well, he’s done it again, this time in tribute to Nancy Pelosi, who the right-wing media have been demonizing ever since she ascended to the leadership of the Democratic House caucus some 15 years ago. The campaign of vilification has been unaccountably successful, turning Pelosi into some kind of personification of Democratic perfidy. This, despite Krugman’s fair assessment that “…Pelosi is by far the greatest speaker of modern times and surely ranks among the most impressive people ever to hold that position.”
Why has the right focused so obsessively on Pelosi? I think they just intuited early on that a female politician from San Francisco was a great target for the misogyny and anti-urban provincialism that resonated with so much of the GOP base long before Trump came along. But what is particularly galling, to me, is that so many Democrats have decided that they, too, can usefully scapegoat Pelosi. Over 50 Democratic candidates for the House this year have said that they will not support Pelosi for the speakership if that possibility should arise.
Why? There really is no good reason for most of these Democrats to be anti-Pelosi. (I say “most” because there are a few people on the left of the party who fault Pelosi, not unreasonably, for being insufficiently progressive. But most of her intra-party critics are not on the left.) I think the explanation for the anti-Pelosi rumblings in the House Democratic caucus is pretty simple: it’s opportunistic pandering. Too many Democrats are not above riding the waves of anti-Pelosi bile generated by their partisan opponents. They figure that being anti-Pelosi is good politics. As I have explained previously, I don’t think it’s good politics; nor is it admirable.
In lauding Pelosi, Krugman compared her favorably to the most recent Republican Speakers of the House, among whom Pelosi, he says, stands out as a giant among midgets. I mostly agree, but I have to take exception to Krugman’s dismissal of New Gingrich:
Newt Gingrich was a blowhard who shut down the government in a failed attempt to blackmail Bill Clinton into cutting Medicare, then led the impeachment of Clinton over an affair even as he himself was cheating on his wife.”
This is fair enough, but a bit too dismissive. Gingrich was surely the most consequential Speaker of the House of modern times. Consequential only in bad ways, but still consequential. More than any other single individual, more than Ronald Reagan, whom the GOP would canonize, Gingrich shaped the contemporary Republican Party. He pioneered its modus operandi as the organizational weapon of the radical right–a party that treats politics as war. In war, the rules, such as they are, can be ignored in the all-out effort to destroy the enemy. Gingrich expressed this view back in 1994 when he said, “This war [between conservatives and liberals] has to be fought with the scale and duration and savagery that is only true of civil wars.” This has been the basic premise of the party ever since—the party that has given us Trump. So, Gingrich–vicious, dishonest, hypocritical blowhard that he is–was no less effective as speaker than Nancy Pelosi. It just depends on how you define “effective.”