Commentator and author Robert Shrum writing for The Daily Beast says if the Democrats take back the House that Nancy Pelosi would be one of the best Speakers of the House ever. He writes that, despite her unfavorable ratings from relentless attacks from Republicans, she has the politics to gather the Democratic Party and push through progressive legislation for the President to sign. No wonder the Republicans are so worried about her.
Even before she was elected Democratic leader in 2003, she was a pioneering architect of legislation to combat HIV/AIDS. She voted against the Defense of Marriage Act—and against the resolution authorizing George W. Bush to go to war in Iraq. And after she became leader, she marshaled near unanimous Democratic opposition to Bush’s scheme to privatize Social Security, and the intimidated the GOP majority didn’t even dare bring it to a vote.
As speaker in 2007, she pushed through an increase in the minimum wage—and a once resistant Bush signed it as part of the bill for Hurricane Katrina relief and supplemental funding for U.S. military forces in Iraq. A year later, she pungently described Bush as “a total failure, losing all credibility…on the economy, on the war, on energy, you name the subject”—an assessment that’s worth remembering during this week’s exquisitely polite rituals at the dedication of the Bush presidential library.
A masterful inside politician, a Democrat’s Democrat, she nonetheless transcended partisanship when the economic crisis hit during the twilight of the Bush administration. After Republicans first defeated the bank bailout bill in the House—and the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged 777 points in one day—she persuaded 33 Democrats to switch their votes, and the bill passed despite the opposition of a majority of GOP members. The bailout wasn’t popular, but it was an essential first step back from the brink of a second Great Depression, and then, as now, Pelosi knew that popularity counts in politics, but it isn’t the only standard of public service.
Her chance to change America as well as his came with Barack Obama’s inauguration. The following two years saw what the political scientist Norman Ornstein called “the best Congress you’ll ever hate.” The unrelenting GOP opposition, the distortions and the demagoguery, would cost House Democrats their majority in 2010, but in the meantime they did what had to be done and wrote a new chapter in our national life.
The president, Pelosi, and her leadership team secured a second economy-saving measure, the $800 billion stimulus package, without a single Republican vote in the House. The legislation not only included one of the biggest middle-class tax cuts in history but also pumped resources into broadband and wireless Internet, clean energy, a modern electricity grid, education, transportation, and infrastructure. It responded to “the fierce urgency” of the moment—and it advanced a futuristic vision of America. The investment could have been greater, but it was the most that could be squeezed through a polarized Congress. Or as Michael Grunwald of Time put it in his book The New New Deal, the stimulus was “stocked” with “game-changers” that will strengthen the economy for decades to come.