One of the most reliable tendencies of politicians is that they think they’re more important than they are. This is not a partisan point. It’s as true of Republicans as it is of Democrats, as a general rule — though it wouldn’t shock me if it’s more acute in more Democrats than Republicans for the simple reason that Democrats tend to invest more in the power and nobility of government than Republicans do. Politicians are prone to thinking the country needs them where they are (or in some higher office).
No doubt the reasons for this belief are complicated and numerous. Sometimes it may even be true. Churchill believed he was the indispensable man, and for a time he certainly was. But most of the time, I think it’s fair to say that this mindset is derived from a bundle of rationalizations. Politicians like being the center of attention. They like power. They like “being in the room where it happens,” to borrow a phrase from the song. And, often, they’ve got no place else to go, to borrow another from An Officer and a Gentleman.
Hence, they stick around longer than they should.
Consider Nancy Pelosi. The House minority leader will be 78 next week. She was first elected to the House in 1987. No doubt she has many legislative accomplishments under her belt. She was also the first female speaker of the House. But is there any doubt that it’s time for Pelosi to pack it in?
While I’m no fan of hers for ideological reasons, this isn’t an ideological or partisan point. She’s simply an albatross for the Democratic party. Dave Weigel writes:
The GOP tried to tie [Conor] Lamb to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the San Francisco liberal and subject of countless Republican attack ads over the past 10 years. Lamb said he would not support her for speaker if Democrats won the House, undercutting the GOP criticism.
Yet Republican groups still plastered the Pennsylvania airwaves with her image, highlighting polls that had her favorability in the district at 25 percent.
A day after the election, Republicans made clear they will be relentless in using Pelosi as a cudgel against Democratic candidates.
“It’s really important to also talk about what would happen if Nancy Pelosi became speaker again,” said Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), the party’s whip.
Pelosi took Lamb’s apparent victory as proof that the attacks no longer connected, dismissing questions about her popularity.
“He won. If he hadn’t won, you might have a question. But he won,” she said.
This is kind of sad. Yes, it’s true that the GOP effort to effectively tie Lamb to Pelosi failed insofar as Lamb won. But the GOP’s messaging didn’t work because Lamb effectively severed himself from Pelosi by saying he wouldn’t vote for her for speaker. Weigel offers powerful evidence that Pelosi is in denial. He reports:
In interviews over the past month with 16 Democrats running for Congress, none said affirmatively that they would support Pelosi for speaker.
If Pelosi retired from Congress (or from leadership), the Democrats would be more likely to take back the House. But she can’t see it — or won’t acknowledge it. Pelosi’s rejoinder, and her overall attitude, will be the stuff of Downfall videos if the Democrats fail to take back the House.
Now, in the grand tradition of National Review, you could make an argument that conservatives, as opposed to Republicans, should hope Pelosi comes to her senses and steps down for the good of her party. Why? Because virtually any plausible replacement of the San Francisco Democrat would be an improvement since, at least rhetorically, they would be marginally more conservative. The trade-off, of course, would be that a Democrat-led Congress would deal a far more devastating blow to the conservative legislative agenda. I do think it’s worth remembering, however, that the point of the conservative movement isn’t simply to get Republicans elected but to move the political center of gravity of the country rightward.
Of course, this is all academic because I am invincibly certain that Ms. Pelosi does not value my advice. I am also almost as certain that she thinks the country and the Democratic party need her vastly more than they actually do.