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Why Pelosi didn't fail

Question: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi last week confronted a dilemma faced by many leaders: whether to step aside when things go wrong. What should be the criteria guiding such a decision? Did Pelosi make the right choice? Should she have offered to resign but let her caucus make the decision? What about Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid?

Nancy Pelosi will go down as one of the most effective speakers of the House in U.S. history. Yet following last week's election, many in politics and media were quick to skewer her legislative choices for which they had so recently praised her. Things have gone downhill for liberals, progressives and Democrats everywhere following this election--but were they "wrong" enough to require Pelosi to resign? Were they wrong enough to outweigh the good things she has done since the 2008 election? And by whose definition of "wrong" are we judging Pelosi and her colleagues?

In a Slate article called "Pelosi's Triumph", William Saletan looks at one of the trendiest new-media targets: the passage of health-care legislation, the "legacy" of Pelosi, and how this bill cost congressional Democrats their jobs and their majority. Finally partisan pundits and politicians seem to agree on one thing--the health-care bill in all of its (frankly bewildering) unpopularity was the straw that broke the political careers of anyone who voted for it.

However, I would like to argue that many in the media are being rather careless in their treatment of this past election and of the repercussions of the passage of the health-care bill. Contrary to popular opinion, Democrats who voted against the health-care bill lost at a higher rate than did those who voted for it. Did Pelosi, as a leader, truly make a mistake because she drove the passage of a bill that will allow seniors to pay less for their prescription drugs? Did she sign her career's death warrant by mandating that insurance companies stop their abominable practice of barring the people who need health care most (those with preexisting conditions) access to health insurance?

Let's try to look at the big picture for once. Saletan does just this when he says, "the big picture isn't about winning or keeping power. It's about using it." Saletan's argument is supported by most the unlikely source, David Frum, a former speechwriter for President George W.Bush. Frum chastises Republicans for valuing their short-term (and arguably more shallow) goal of winning a majority over the long-term (and arguably more honorable) goal of creating lasting and meaningful legislation for their constituents.

So did Pelosi fail, on the whole, because her party lost control of the House? Or because she lost her seat as the Speaker? I would argue no. Pelosi and her fellow politicians made a choice to push through legislation that will change the culture, economy and society of the United States forever. She harnessed the kind of integrity for which we should praise politicians, not punish them. Pelosi should not be a symbol of failure; she should be a symbol for women and men everywhere who are willing to take the risk of going into politics because they believe in something. A symbol for everyone who wants to maintain their integrity and make choices that they believe in, even if that means that in the short term they might lose.

Women and men need to see an example of a woman politician who has had to face a loss but refuses to back down. Too often, women leaders become discouraged after an initial loss, or are encouraged by others to step down following a failure. What would happen if instead of backing down, we came back with even more fire in our hearts, and passion for change? I think that we are going to see what happens in the next two years as Pelosi continues her work in the House. I'm excited to watch this inspiring woman lead not for her party, not for votes, but for the American people.

By Marie Wilson

 |  November 10, 2010; 1:48 PM ET
Category:  Accomplishing Goals , Congressional leadership , Government leadership , Leadership personalities , Political leadership , Politics , Succession , Women in Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Nancy Pelosi did NOT fail, but rather did a great job as speaker - the job she was supposed to do. Others failed; she did not. If she needs to tone down, she will - she's smart, decisive, learns from any mistakes, and knows how to communicate with and listen to fellow Democrats. I would very much like to see her as the leader of the Democrat minority in the House - she will continue to do a great job.

Posted by: jujones1 | November 12, 2010 11:45 AM
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The nation has not flourished with Nancy Pelosi as Speaker.

She promised that a Democratic majority in the House would mean a financially responsible and more ethical Congress.
But she gave us the opposite. Voters understand this, and Democrats would be wise to heed their negative judgment of Nancy Pelosi's tenure.

Posted by: coastofutopia | November 12, 2010 11:29 AM
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Ms Wilson - I'm a strong supporter of the need for more women in politics so seeing an example of a woman doing the right thing in a tough situation is exactly what we need - as you say. However, what we need is a less confrontational style that Hoyer could provide and an example of a leader who demonstrates that she values a functioning government over her own brand of the Democratic vision by stepping down.

Posted by: Joe149 | November 12, 2010 9:35 AM
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What an unbelievably one sided article. Pelosi failed because she is arrogant and offensive. The Democrats were decimated because, as the Republicans did before them, they failed to listen to the Boss (the American People).

When a business leader does not listen to his/her customers the business fails. Since August last year the American people have been telling Pelosi she was heading in the wrong directon. She did not listen and the Democrats suffered the consequences.

It is also tiring to listen to columnists who can't understand why the electorate does not like Obamacare. This monstrosity was sneaked in the back door in the most digusting manner. Obama, Reid and Pelosi conducted themselves like corrupt businessmen, making shady closed door deals with politicians, Unions, Pharma and the insurance industry.

There was no consideration given to the main points forwarded by Republicans (tort reform, savings accounts, purchase across state lines etc). Instead a mammoth document, that even Pelosi didn't understand (we have to pass it to see whats in it)was forced down the throats of the American people.

Should Pelosi stay? as an Independent who leans right, I sure as hell hope so.

Posted by: mckenna7 | November 11, 2010 5:03 PM
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When healthy people purchase health insurance, they are pooling their money with a whole group of otherwise healthy people who all understand that there is a possibility that one day one of them may become sick. When that happens, you better believe that sick person is glad all the healthy people are still paying their premiums, because those premiums are what's covering the sick person's health care costs. There is also the possibility that a person may be healthy for the rest of their lives, and will have paid for the treatment of other peoples' health problems without ever having had any of their own. Anyone who purchases health insurance has decided that they would rather risk putting money into the pool that they may never recoup than risk not having access to the pool if they get sick.

If someone does not have health insurance because they think they will always be healthy, but then tries to purchase health insurance when they become sick, they're sticking it to the people who have been purchasing health insurance all along. But many people who want health insurance and have a preexisting condition are uninsured because they didn't have access to a plan when they were healthy, or because they lost a job with health care benefits when they became sick. Yeah, we'll be paying for their care, but when we get sick, someone else will be paying for ours, and odds are it'll include some of the healthy members of that sick person's family.

What some of the 250 million healthy people in this country seem to forget is that odds are we'll get old one day and need prescription drugs, and if we don't, it's probably because we've gotten sick and required expensive care, and then died anyway. We like to talk about making sure our leaders are accountable to us, but its refreshing when we elect leaders who, at the appropriate times, hold us accountable to each other.

Posted by: necip_shaw | November 11, 2010 4:10 PM
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Dear Marie,
You seem to suffer from a myopia on medical costs. For example you said '...she drove the passage of a bill that will allow seniors to pay less for their prescription drugs...' and '...mandating that insurance companies stop their abominable practice of barring the people who need health care most (those with preexisting conditions) access to health insurance?...

The costs are not disappearing, they are just being transferred to someone else. When seniors pay less, everyone younger pays more. When someone with a pre-existing condition gets care at a lower price, some in better health pays more.

Nancy Pelosi forgot that fact too. The supposed 50 million people who benefited thought she was great, but enough of the 250 million people whose ox got gored to pay for it didnt and thats why her party was lost. Thats why she needs to go; she tried to use her power to force a solution which a majority of the country rejected. A leader in a democracy can only lead the electorate where the electorate is willing to go. A leader that forgets that basic fact needs to be replaced.

Posted by: bruce18 | November 10, 2010 4:46 PM
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5 Trillion in deficit spending since Pelosi became speaker (2006-2010) source US treasury.

Posted by: tomkat2 | November 10, 2010 2:36 PM
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