We all have a tendency to justify our mistakes, convincing ourselves that either it wasn't a mistake at all or that we did the best anyone could have done given the exigencies of the moment. We throw good money after bad and good energy after bad, all in the service of convincing ourselves that we thought and acted properly. So it's refreshing when someone comes out and says, "I was wrong." Along those lines, Josh Green of the Atlantic has something interesting to say about Nancy Pelosi:
In 2005, I wrote a short, fairly negative profile of Pelosi and Harry Reid called "The Odd Couple." My contention was that Democrats, then at their Bush-era nadir, needed revolutionaries to lead a comeback, and that Pelosi and Reid, ineffectual party lifers, didn't fit the bill. ("The vapid response team," Charlie Cook dubbed them in my piece.) "Both apprenticed as whip," I wrote, "a job that requires corralling and cajoling fellow congressmen to support the party line." I thought they lacked the salesmanship to rally the broader public behind the Democratic agenda.
In hindsight, my mistake is clear. I made the common media error of placing too much weight on public relations, and too little on legislative skill. Obama took care of the salesmanship, and Pelosi's underappreciated experience as whip has proved instrumental to her success. The interesting thing now is understanding how she's operated in Congress.
Green is one of the best political journalists working today, and if more reporters engaged in this kind of introspection, we'd get better journalism. And he's right -- placing too much weight on public relations is a common media error. It's why reporters were so enraptured (and continue to be) with Newt Gingrich, a guy who gives great quotes and will liven up any story but demonstrated when he was speaker that he couldn't legislate his way out of a paper bag. That's in contrast to Tom DeLay, who effectively ran Congress after Gingrich left in shame (even though Dennis Hastert was the nominal speaker). DeLay was pretty repellent on television and was never popular with the public, but when it came to votes in the House, he knew which skulls to crack and so got things done.
Far be it from me to denigrate the idea of paying attention to public relations, but public relations will only take you so far. In order to get victories like the one Democrats just got, you need to be skillful at the less flashy business of counting votes. No one is going to doubt Pelosi's abilities in that area now.
-- Paul Waldman
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