Let the Nancy Pelosi honeymoon begin. Sure, the current House Democratic minority leader hasn’t won a House majority yet, and it is traditional for honeymoons to follow, rather than anticipate, the blessed event. But the media can’t help themselves, not when they are tingling with anticipation over the prospect of a Democratic victory.
Say what you will about Pelosi, but it is a matter of record that she’s far left of the center of American politics — her rating from the liberal lobbying group Americans for Democratic Action is routinely a 100 percent; that she enforces party loyalty — her Democrats voted along party lines 88 percent of the time last year, a record for the past 50 years; that she has primarily occupied herself with blocking legislation in the House — she has tried to kill practically every Republican initiative, no matter how small; that she uses tough rhetoric — Republicans are, according to Pelosi, “corrupt,” “incompetent” and running a “criminal enterprise.”
There’s nothing wrong with any of this. Politicians should have deep convictions, and they should work to organize their party around them and to defeat the opposition. Nor is there anything wrong with sharp rhetorical elbows. But the press usually professes to like none of these qualities, and typically dubs someone exhibiting them as “radical,” “partisan,” “obstructionist,” and “mean-spirited.”
Instead, in a typical media treatment, the Washington Post finds Pelosi a “tough-minded tactician.” She has “kept the fractious House Democrats in line.” She has “thwarted many GOP initiatives” by getting the Democrats to “hang together.” Yes, Republicans accuse her of being an obstructionist, but that’s just the sort of name-calling Republicans always engage in, now isn’t it?
She’s definitely not “casually reckless” in attacking her enemies. Not “ruthless.” Not “authoritarian.” Not a “bomb-thrower.” Not given to “slash and burn, knife and smear” tactics. And, of course, not “mad as hell” or riding “a surge of voter anger.”
All those descriptions were applied to Newt Gingrich when he won the speakership in 1994. It is certainly true that Pelosi is personally more sympathetic than Gingrich. She’s much prettier, and is, by all accounts, a wonderful mother and grandmother. But the difference between the way Gingrich and she have been described in the press comes down to whether you agree with him or her — and the media take her side every time.
The media can’t conceal their rooting interest in this campaign, which leads them to pursue any narrative that’s damaging to the GOP, even when it contradicts other narratives damaging to the GOP. When Republicans appeal to rural, white, socially conservative voters, they are Neanderthals. When Democrats do it, they are shrewd tacticians.
When Republicans work together with the Christian right, they are true-believing, would-be theocrats. When a book comes out alleging that some Bush aides said dismissive things about leaders of the Christian right, Republicans are manipulative hypocrites.
When the Foley scandal breaks, Republicans are protective of predatory gays. When Republicans oppose gay marriage, they are anti-gay bigots.
The press hates negative campaigning, except when it comes to its own. Virginia Republican Sen. George Allen infamously insulted a worker from a rival campaign by calling him “macaca.” A stupid mistake. But the Washington Post has run so many front-page “news” articles on the incident, together with editorials, columns, editorial cartoons and style-section lifestyle pieces, that the paper’s ombudsman concluded, gently, that “it looked like piling on.” Even after that, the paper’s biographical profile of Allen — in every other instance, a fluffy piece on a candidate — made his life seem a steady stream of nothing but racial incidents.
If there is any bright side for Republicans to the media partisanship and pre-celebration, it’s that they already are getting a flavor for what a Pelosi speakership will be like. If she wins a majority, conservatives will soon have buyer’s remorse, or more precisely, indifference remorse, realizing that their disaffection from the GOP only empowered liberal Democrats. The ongoing honeymoon should give them more incentive to try to call off the wedding.
– Rich Lowry is author of Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years.
© 2006 by King Features Syndicate.