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The battle smoke lifts, the noise of past political combat dies away, and we envision at last the right role model for John Boehner as he assumes the speakership. Who else, I ask, but Nancy Pelosi?
The Rose of San Francisco will not go down in speakership annals standing beside the honored likes of Henry Clay, Jack Garner and Sam Rayburn. She'll possibly go down instead as the speaker with both the hardest head and nose; unyielding in pursuit of her objectives; giving an inch to critics only when forced and then waiting patiently to snatch it back.
Save for being wrong about virtually everything but the time of day, she might tentatively merit the title of the American Thatcher. She snapped her fingers, thumbed her nose, and got the job done. And won't it be nice if Boehner does the same thing. If he does, the republic may start to recover its lost political, economic and cultural capital. He might, in truth, want to keep her photo—steely eyes and all—taped to his shaving mirror.
Boehner's advantages are not wholly commensurate with those Pelosi enjoyed during the high noon of her speakership. He lacks the Democrats' full nelson hold on their opponents by virtue of sheer numbers and White House control. The most titanium-nosed speaker in the world generally ends up needing the president's cooperation.
Pelosi had presidential cooperation, in addition to an idea and a program. She wished to shovel through the congressional process as fast as possible and go through her party's whole leftish agenda with minimal discussion—from quasi-nationalized health care to gay rights in the military.
She didn't care much for objections or the "compromises" that good government types are presently extolling as necessary to the repair of American politics. She wanted the job done. Members who found particular votes difficult were invited to fall on their swords for the greater good of the Democratic Party. She suggested they look past the present tumult and shouting to the blessings that grateful Americans would one day heap on those who voted, for instance, to let the government mostly run health care.
Even those of us who acknowledge government health care to be the worst political notion of the past half century can appreciate the speaker's sense that political payoffs need not be immediate; that the short run doesn't trump the long view. If she did think about it, she erred in thinking that the financial plan for Obamacare could ever work out. At least, her eye wasn't cocked solely toward the election coming up.
Hard-slogging determination and the long view of things—one couldn't wish upon John Boehner two attributes likelier to give new Republican House members glorious and much-desired success.
The slog to come will be arduous. Bloggers, pundits, Democratic activists and so on will shower abuse on Boehner no matter what he does. If under him, the House goes "too far," the critics will rage about tea party extremism. If instead the House fails to turn up the gas as high as promised, the same voices will intone, with half smiles, "Told ya so."
Particular leaders of the reformist right will likewise seethe if Boehner—as these particular leaders see it—asks for or accepts too little in the way of better treatment for the free marketplace and the constitutional ideal of limited government.
The speaker's task on such occasions will be to sort out the truth—did I go too fast or just not fast enough?—make adjustments and then push ahead: not minding the abuse, the obstructions, the cries of doom and destruction. Nancy Pelosi, given as she was to adoption of the worst ideas in politics, set the example of a political leader under fire. She put her head down and kept acomin'.
So should John Boehner—with eye and mind fixed steadily on the rewards in store, however distantly, for political figures that do the right things in the right way. For a change, Ms. Pelosi—a monumental change.
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