The Pelosi Years
The Democrats will be running the House. But this is not a majority made from cookie-cutter liberals.
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Madam President: Shattering the Last Glass Ceiling
by Eleanor Clift
A Web-exclusive column
By Eleanor Clift
Updated: 11:59 p.m. CT Nov 7, 2006
Nov. 8, 2006 - Democrats have won the House, ending a 12-year drought. And Nancy Pelosi is on her way to becoming Speaker, becoming the first woman ever to hold the job. It’s a time for the long-suffering party to celebrate. But keeping the party's new majority will be a test, and the tone Democrats set over the next days and weeks will create a first impression for the voters that will be hard to change if they don’t get it right.
This is not a majority made from cookie-cutter liberals. These are men and women winning in districts that were drawn for Republicans. Some are pro-life, some pro-gun, some sound so Republican they might be in the other party if it weren’t for President Bush and the Iraq war. It will take all of Pelosi’s skills as a manager and disciplinarian to forge a coalition out of these philosophical disparities.
The voters, tired of Washington's divisive ways, want to see the two parties cooperate; it will be Pelosi's challenge to make that a reality. Pelosi might have looked across the aisle and found some soulmates among Republican moderates, but the early returns suggest they won’t be back. GOP stalwarts like Nancy Johnson in Connecticut were defeated. Johnson regularly crossed party lines to work with Democrats.
Voters cited corruption and ethics along with Iraq as issues that mattered most to them. Asked whether they were voting on local issues or national concerns, 62 percent said they were casting a national vote.
Democrats will be on probation for the next two years to show they can govern. If the Democrats want to retain the majority they just won, they’ll have to behave better than the GOP.
The impetus for a change of course in Iraq will almost certainly come from the Republicans, who will not want to endure another bloodletting in two years if the war is not resolved. Why should Democrats shoulder the burden of solving Bush’s war when they’ve been left out of everything else? Republicans have run the Congress with an iron fist, excluding Democrats and bringing legislation to the floor only when it can command a “majority of the majority,” meaning Republicans only. It will be tempting for Democrats to exact revenge for a decade of mistreatment, but that would just trade one set of bullies for another.
The way both parties act in the coming Congress will set the stage for the ’08 presidential race. Republicans will wake up Wednesday with casualties among moderate Republicans in the Northeast. Those country-club Republicans, who once dominated the party, are a vanishing breed, along with their moderate views on social issues, their activism on the environment, and their support for Planned Parenthood. What's left is a party that's more conservative but not necessarily happy with the conservatism practiced by the Bush White House. The GOP will have to woo back fiscal hawks unhappy with Bush's big-government spending, and foreign policy realists weary of the neocons who cheered Bush's invasion of Iraq.
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