Nancy Pelosi: An unstable situation

Ford O'Connell Chairman, CivicForumPAC
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Prior to Election Day, Carolyn Lochhead of the San Francisco Chronicle asked me to predict Speaker Pelosi’s future.  I responded that, although she will find herself in the minority, Pelosi would not retire from Congress for two reasons: she has a proven track-record as a strong fundraiser — in politics, a fundraising juggernaut like Pelosi does not come around all that often — and that two years is a political lifetime and anything can happen, particularly given the unstable political landscape and the daunting tasks that face House Republicans.

When the article was published on the Monday before Election Day, my mother called me at the crack of dawn to inform me that not only was I a communist, but that I had just given a resounding endorsement to the most liberal person on the face of the earth.  I told her that as a conservative, I had not lost my marbles; I was just simply reading the tea leaves.  Luckily for me, a 60-plus seat gain by the GOP in the U.S. House on Election Night greatly lifted my mother’s sprits.

Last Friday, predictably enough, not only did Ms. Pelosi choose NOT to retire — let me tell you, there are times in life that you just don’t want to be right — she decided to stay on as the Dems’ leader in the House.  Many Republicans are thrilled that Nancy Pelosi has chosen to stay.  They see her as the gift that keeps on giving, which depending on how things pan out, could allow the GOP to retake the White House in 2012.  I am not so cheerful.  My advice to Republicans: “Be careful of what you wish for!”

To understand my concern, you have to first understand Nancy Pelosi and what she is capable of.  Yes, as The Star-Ledger notes (in the vernacular of New Jersey), she is a “rash” who just won’t go away fast enough for some Democrats, particularly the Blue Dogs.  And yes, Pelosi’s “take-no-prisoners” tactics, which she must have inherited from her father, could further alienate independent voters.  Even the liberal New York Times has suggested that Nancy Pelosi should step aside for the good of the Democratic Party.  Still, Ms. Pelosi is a committed liberal, who believes that what she is doing is right, akin to a divine calling.  She is also a fighter.  Much to the glee of diehard liberals, Nancy Pelosi has the skills and enough support in her rump caucus to throw big roadblocks in the way of a Republican leadership that wants to run a more open debate to achieve legislative consensus.

I hope Rep. Pelosi comes to terms with the fact that the Democrats are no longer running the House for a reason.  Unlike the last two years, where the GOP caucus attempted to act as a brake on an administration bent on veering too far leftward and advancing an utopian agenda not grounded in the immediate concerns of most of the citizens, if Pelosi chooses to dig in her heels and thwart attempts to meet in the middle, “Main Street” will continue to struggle and incumbents in both parties will face the wrath of voters again in 2012.

More importantly though, another two years of rancor could tear the fabric of America to the point where the opportunity for consensus no longer exists.  Nancy Pelosi needs to remember that America is hanging together by a thread, and localities like Bristol, Virginia, and Franklin, Ohio, are not San Francisco (where the median income is one of the highest in the nation).  Folks across America are hurting, they are living week-to-week (in some cases even day-to-day), and long-term initiatives like a poorly thought-out health care plan are not what they need right now.  Too many are unemployed or struggling.  They want good jobs, a stable economy and a future for their children that does not include a career as a fast food order-taker.

As the next minority leader, Ms. Pelosi has another option: she can choose to channel her inner Tip O’Neill and compromise.  If she is seen as a driving force behind economically rational legislation (more incentives for small business owners, debt reduction, etc.) aimed at improving the economic condition of Main Street, she and America will be in a better position in 2012.

America’s need to restore a robust economy is greater than Nancy Pelosi, John Boehner and President Obama.  The question for all is whether our leaders choose to put aside their differences and come together to do what is in the country’s best interests.  Now that the chairs have been rearranged, things in Congress could get as tense as the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Hopefully cooler heads will prevail and both parties will come to the conclusion that they are there to serve the interests of the American people, who are hurting.

Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist, national political commentator and former presidential campaign advisor, is the Chairman of CivicForumPAC and co-founder of ProjectVirginia.