Pelosi is capable of convenient political pirouettes. Right after Dick Gephardt’s Rose Garden sellout to Bush on Iraq, Roll Call reported that Pelosi was considering sponsoring an alternative to the Gephardt blank-check resolution giving Bush sole authority to decide on war. That would have shown some real leadership. But Pelosi dropped the plan, apparently because she thought it would hurt her in the inevitable contest to succeed Gephardt. Two weeks later, after it was clear a majority of the Democratic caucus would vote against war, Pelosi joined them -- but, of course, her district is overwhelmingly anti-war. Then there was Pelosi‘s surprising endorsement of scandal-plagued Representative Gary Condit for re-election -- an endorsement she was forced to withdraw after a firestorm of protest from women’s groups.
Pelosi went ballistic a few years ago when the head of the AFL-CIO‘s Committee on Political Education (COPE), in opposing her bid to chair the national Democrats, referred to her as an “airhead.” But, says a senior liberal Democratic strategist today, “Pelosi is simply not very articulate. She tends to talk too much -- like many people who have limited confidence in their intelligence and tend to make up in verbosity what they lack in veracity.” That’s why the San Francisco Chronicle recently commented tactfully that in her noteless speeches Pelosi “tends to get sidetracked,” that she has a reputation for avoiding the press, and in her infrequent TV appearances she lacks the spontaneous authenticity of, say, Barney Frank or John McCain.
In Bay Area politics, Pelosi is considered an establishment figure. Says S.F. Supervisor Tom Ammiano, the once and future mayoral candidate who‘s built a successful progressive coalition against the Willie Brown pro-business machine, “I’ve rarely ever had her support,” adding, “We could do worse than Pelosi -- but we could also do better.” And her close ally Representative Anna Eshoo accurately describes her pal as “first and foremost pragmatic.”
Pelosi got her new job as minority leader the old-fashioned way -- she bought it, raising some $8 million for House Democrats in the last election cycle and criss-crossing the country handing out the checks. Now, the top staffers who ran the leader‘s office for both Tom Foley and Gephardt have been asked to stay on by Pelosi. That’s more of a signal of continuity than of the sharp break with its past lethargy the Democrats need to win.
And while she was infinitely preferable for the job than either of her more conservative challengers, it remains an open question whether Pelosi is equipped to make a real difference in the 14 months until the Democrats choose a new presidential candidate to lead their party.