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THE MUSINGS OF A TRADITIONAL SOUTHERN DEMOCRAT

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Sid in his law office where he sits when meeting with clients. Observant eyes will notice the statuette of one of Sid's favorite Democrats.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

We need more than symbolism - Symbolic rebuke from a third of Democratic caucus suggests Pelosi no longer has as firm a grip on her party.

The ajc's Political Insider reports that U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Albany, issued a statement Wednesday morning saying in part:

There comes a time . . when one must put the future of the country and the Democratic party ahead of purely personal considerations. Having Speaker Pelosi as the face of our party in the U.S. House of Representatives for the next two years will not allow us to rebuild for the future. It will make it more difficult for us to recapture the moderate and independent voters who deserted the Democratic Party in droves this November. It will make it more difficult for us to make inroads in rural America which shifted from blue to red in historic proportions. In fact, I don’t see how we will be able to recruit candidates to run in the South and other red states with Speaker Pelosi at the helm.

And from today's The Wall Street Journal:

House Democrats elected Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday to lead their party in the minority next year, after a symbolic rebuke from a third of her caucus that suggests she no longer has as firm a grip on her party.

Ms. Pelosi, of California, beat North Carolina Rep. Heath Shuler by 150-43, in an internal election that exposed fissures inside the party after Democrats lost more than 60 congressional seats, and their House majority, in this month's midterm elections.

That result followed an earlier roll call in which 68 Democrats voted to delay the leadership elections until after Thanksgiving, so lawmakers who survived the midterms could have more time to digest the results. Democrats will gather again on Thursday to decide whether to strip Ms. Pelosi of some of her power, including her ability to name the head of the party's campaign arm in the House.

Ms. Pelosi was unbowed after Wednesday's vote.

"The message we've received from the American people is that they want a job," she said.

Asked whether it was wise for her to maintain her post in the wake of the losses and her low approval ratings, she replied, "How would your ratings be if $75 million were spent against you?"

Some Democrats who have been allied to Ms. Pelosi weren't happy with Wednesday's decisions. "We just had a horrible election," said Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, a Pelosi ally who supported the proposal to delay the election. "A couple of weeks would have been appropriate for all of us to talk."

Oregon Rep. David Wu told Ms. Pelosi directly at the meeting that he couldn't vote for her, at least not today, even though he has supported her in past elections, Mr. Wu said.

"Under these circumstances, I would have resigned," he said, adding, "We will move on. It's time to turn the page."


And David Broder, a dean among journalists with The Washington Post, writes about the bad omen in the Democrats' reorganization of House leadership:

When the rules of the House of Representatives forced the Democrats to confront a painful choice among their leaders, they did what Democrats are often inclined to do. They changed the rules.

Usually, such a stunt would matter only to the members affected by the change. But this one sends a dangerous signal at a crucial moment, when both parties are being tested on their willingness to respond to the lessons of the last election. This is a disquieting development.

When the Democrats lost their House majority in the political upheaval on Nov. 2, they also lost one of their four leadership posts.

It has always worked this way whenever an election shifts control of the House between the parties. Someone on the losing side loses his leadership job.

[Steny] Hoyer had no problem in accepting the change; he had been No. 2 to Pelosi before. But [Jim] Clyburn was not as accommodating and with his unwillingness to step down a post, the Democratic caucus suddenly faced a crisis.

The two men who both aspired to remain in the leadership were no ordinary players. Hoyer, who once challenged Pelosi unsuccessfully for the top post, had close ties to moderate and conservative Democrats already devastated by their election losses. Clyburn is a senior member of the Congressional Black Caucus, in many ways the most loyal and dependable bloc in the party.

Neither man was willing to step down, and Democrats could not afford for either to be humiliated. So what to do? Change the rules. Invent a job of assistant leader, with no specific duties, and slot Clyburn for that post.

Normally, this would not matter much. But we are about to start a Congress in which everything depends on the willingness of the leadership in both parties to face up to hard choices - on the budget, Afghanistan and a dozen other issues.

Too often in the past, Democrats have avoided making hard choices by throwing more money in the pot or taking similar self-indulgent steps. When it came to the stimulus legislation and health-care reform, for example, Democrats spent to buy votes rather than make tough choices.

The Democrats' unwillingness to face the hard choice in this internal fight sends exactly the wrong signal.

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