SPEAKER PELOSI. The New York Times assesses Nancy Pelosi today. Much ink (including a direct quote from Barney Frank) is devoted to how bad she is on television. This is true; she's bad on television. It's her deficiency as a "spokesperson for the party" that seems partly to explain the rather odd pincer dynamic that's emerged under her leadership, wherein various observers, activists, and members both to her left and to her right have expressed dissatisfaction with her. The hostility from the right -- from Steny Hoyer's allies, a.k.a. "Democrats interested in passing more bills that are friendly to corporate campaign contributors" -- is straightforward and makes sense. The criticism from those liberals who are at least aware that the actual alternative to Pelosi is Hoyer tends to center on her failures as a message person. But looking to congressional leaders for party image-making and P.R. is a mistake.
The actual job of managing a caucus in some kind of effective and strategic manner is immensely difficult in its own right. It's only the sheerest coincidence if it so happens that a person imbued with the proper skills, temperament, and ability as a caucus leader also happens to be slick and charming and photogenic. (Tom DeLay was not a good message person for the GOP. Neither is Dennis Hastert.) But the other thing about the job of congressional leader, besides that it's really hard, is that it's really important. Indeed, having someone there who's good at leading the House caucus is simply more important than having one who's good on Meet the Press. I think the record shows that, given the context of past leadership eras, Pelosi has been effective. Social Security privatization, for example, wasn't defeated though telegenic advocacy. It was defeated through the effective enforcement of caucus discipline. (As Pelosi put it at the recent Prospect breakfast, "[W]e have to build our unity so that everyone is behind what we�re putting out there. [inaudible] Can you imagine what it�s like to have 250 House and Senate Democrats not have their own Social Security proposals? I mean, this was a remarkable feat and Harry and I were pleased to get credit for that.")
The other banal-but-important thing to say about assessments of Pelosi -- which, to its credit, the Times piece mentions -- is that like all powerful women she's the subject of an enormous amount of straightforwardly misogynistic judgment. She's a pushy lady and she looks slightly garish and thus she inspires contempt and ridicule. Obviously neither all nor most criticism of her stems from that and there's plenty of legitimate grounds on which people base complaints about her, but it's impossible to be in and around political circles in D.C. and fail to recognize that uglier impulses are also a factor.