“When people do inexplicable things, it’s always tempting to project qualities onto them that would offer a more innocuous explanation of their behavior than bad judgment, fecklessness, or stupidity. And this particular bias has infected contemporary political analysis with a virulence that rivals Ebola.” —Elizabeth Spiers
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi enjoys a reputation, at least among liberals and the mainstream media, as that of a master legislator, a brilliant strategist, a principled, tough, smart, shrewd three-dimensional chess player. These attributes go almost entirely unquestioned. Every move she makes is blindly lauded, the assumption always being that because she performed it, it must be astute. But what if everything, or almost everything, we think about her is wrong? What if Pelosi the Master Strategist is much like John McCain the Maverick? Largely a PR construct, an exercise in unwarranted lionization. What if the real legacy here is not in deftness and moral clarity, but in myth-making?
Pelosi’s feet-dragging on impeaching Trump is well-known, oft-discussed, and above all, confusing. Much ink has been spilled in attempts to parse out the why, with few to no definitive answers ever reached. Excuses for her confounding, feckless behavior, on the other hand, are legion. Nancy knows what she’s doing, we just have to trust her. Pelosi is playing the long game. Oh, she just doesn’t have the votes yet. Her genius cannot be questioned or divined.
I’m not buying it. In fact, I think it’s outright perilous to buy it. I maintain that Pelosi’s reputation for masterful tactics and brilliant strategy is not at all supported by the facts, and that Democrats are largely buying into a fiction when they make excuses for her inaction. In reality, she is myopic, timid, constantly outfoxed by Republicans, and unable to differentiate between garden variety partisan feuding and encroaching authoritarianism.
Pundits and much of the public are jumping through hoops and performing Olympic-level feats of mental gymnastics to explain Pelosi’s actions, or lack thereof. People search desperately for any logical way to explain her carelessness as disguised cleverness and shower her with cheers for doing the bare minimum of duty, like clapping snarkily at Trump during the State of the Union. But what if we just called a spade a spade? What if things really are what they seem, and there isn’t a comforting ulterior explanation?
Maybe it seems like Pelosi is always in a reactionary, defensive crouch when it comes to dealing with Trump’s corruption because she is in a reactionary, defensive crouch. Maybe it seems like she keeps getting outmaneuvered by White House staff flagrantly defying subpoenas because she does keep getting outmaneuvered by them. Maybe it looks like she’s ignoring Trump’s horrific crimes and incompetence in the hopes that the 2020 election will save her from getting her Manolos dirty because she is, because maybe her biggest priority is not bloodying up her fancy Chanel suits. Maybe it appears that she always allows Republicans to control the narrative because she does allow Republicans to control the narrative. Maybe it looks like she can’t clearly see the constitutional crisis we face because she can’t clearly see it. What if things are what they seem? Why can’t we all acknowledge the quacking duck in the room? It’s like we’re slitting our collective wrist on Occam’s razor and don’t realize we’re all slowly bleeding out.
If you stop to think about it, you start noticing that the Pelosi praise isn’t really warranted. We’re one step away from congratulating her for tying her shoes properly. She always receives overwrought fanfare for “getting under Trump’s skin” or “getting into Trump’s head.” But why is the knee-jerk reaction to say Pelosi played him instead of realizing that everything gets under Trump’s skin? He is an overgrown toddler. His skin is thinner than carbon paper and his ego has all the durability of a Fabergé egg. This isn’t Pelosi’s mad skill, this is an inevitable outcome of simply having an interaction with a spoiled, malignant narcissist.
Speaker Pelosi calls herself a “master legislator” (ugh) and always points to her vote-whipping prowess that resulted in passing the Affordable Care Act. Everyone enthusiastically nods along and repeats the talking points verbatim. But a closer inspection raises some uncomfortable questions that are extremely relevant to today. Yes, Pelosi worked hard and shepherded the ACA into law. But, why the ACA in particular? Why was she so hellbent on passing an actual Republican bill that was literally crafted by the Heritage Foundation? Why not a Democrat bill that granted universal health coverage? And let’s talk about the aftermath of the bill’s codification. Congressional Republicans immediately grabbed the upper hand on messaging. Despite it being a GOP bill, they smeared it, they lied about it, and they took complete advantage of the bill’s inherent puzzling complexity to turn the public against it. Pelosi appears not to have anticipated this, for which there is absolutely no excuse. Instead of getting in front of this partisan malfeasance, she played weak defense and hoped the bill would speak for itself. (Narrator’s voice: it did not.) When the GOP campaigned for the 2010 midterms on a platform of “Fire Pelosi”, Pelosi herself mainly cowered in response. She failed to see how masterful and effective that ad campaign would be and didn’t combat it in any real way. She allowed Republicans to set the terms of the ACA argument, and miserably failed to have any strategy to fight their bad faith and deceit. Democrats lost 63 House seats that year, none of which can be blamed on gerrymandering.
It’s 2019 and she still allows Republicans the upper hand on narration. She still permits them to lead and set the terms. She’s still constantly playing defense. It feels like she learned nothing from the ACA fight. How is any of this a genius strategy? Where was her 3-D chess long game? Where was the shrewdness? I don’t see any. I see a mediocre manager blindsided by something rather predictable. I see a myopic, pedestrian politician who won’t think past the next election cycle, and uses The Next Election as a constant excuse to not see the real threat and not do the real work.
Lest you think I’m bagging on her too hard, I do think Nancy Pelosi has two real skills: 1) herding cats; and 2) knowing where the bodies are buried – the latter of which enables the former. These skills certainly aren’t nothing (neither Paul Ryan nor John Boehner could manage them), but if we are willing, we can see their limitations clear as day. Though unnecessarily slow and torturous, the Congressional torch is passing to a new generation. 2018 ushered in the most diverse Congress we’ve yet seen. But that (selectively championed) diversity is laying bare the shortcomings of Pelosi’s limited leadership skills. This freshman Congress is chock full of immigrants, women of color, and most importantly, political neophytes. They don’t have buried bodies. Pelosi doesn’t have “information” on them she can use to whip their vote or coerce their cooperation with the party line. This is why she can’t control “The Squad.” This is why she may be facing a caucus revolt on the impeachment issue. As the makeup of Congress changes, as younger generations and more non-whites with different experiences and values take the reins, Pelosi’s narrow leadership acumen will be rendered moot. It’s alarming, but perhaps not wholly surprising, that she’d much rather publicly snipe at members of her own party than either gain some new and more relevant skills, or realize her time is up and hand over the gavel to someone better suited to the present crisis and changing times.
When is a long game just too damn long to take seriously anymore? Nancy Pelosi is failing us. She is failing this country. It’s time we cut through the bullshit mythology, took her off her unearned pedestal, and called her mediocrity and dangerous inaction for what it is.
Blueberry Pistachio Tabbouleh
- Kosher salt
- ¾ cup bulgur wheat
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 3 scallions, thinly sliced
- 1 English cucumber, or the equivalent thereof, seeded and chopped (I used 2 Kirby's because I like them better)
- ⅓ cup finely chopped mint leaves
- ½ cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 tbs red wine vinegar
- Zest and juice of 1 lemon
- Fresh cracked black pepper, to taste
- ½ tsp dried oregano
- ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 cup fresh blueberries
- ½ cup shelled and coarsely chopped pistachios (I went with the roasted, salted kind)
- ½ cup crumbled feta (the original recipe called this part optional? I don’t understand)
- Rinse and drain the bulgur in a colander. Bring 1 ¼ cups water to a boil in a small pot. Add a pinch of salt and the bulgur. Cover, then remove the pan from the heat. Let sit for 25 to 30 minutes, until the liquid has absorbed. I needed the full 30 minutes, but then again I live in a sweltering army blanket of humidity during summers, so that may have played in. Once the liquid is absorbed, remove the cover and stir in the garlic. Set aside to cool (you can speed this by transferring to a bowl and refrigerating).
- Once the bulgur has cooled, transfer it to a large bowl. Add the scallions, cucumber, mint, and parsley. Toss well. Add the olive oil, lemon zest and juice, salt and pepper to taste, plus oregano and cinnamon. Toss gently to combine. Add the blueberries and pistachios, then taste for seasoning. Adjust as needed. Add the feta and toss very gently to combine. Refrigerate until cold, about 1 hour before serving. Leftovers are amazing!