Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is currently engaged in a demonstration of how the objectives of public service can become so distorted in the minds of those with power that they lose their ethical bearings completely.
By many standards of legislative success, Pelosi’s tenure as the leader of the House of Representatives has been a triumph. Nevertheless, she has become the face of the epic rejection of Democrats at all levels of government in the recent election. Her personal approval rating outside her native San Francisco hovers in single digits, and the Republicans successfully made “Fire Pelosi” a successful campaign slogan. Voters did fire Pelosi. Fairly of unfairly, she came to symbolize the arrogance of power, a contempt for the opinions of ordinary citizens, and runaway government. Like Harry Reid, her counterpart in the Senate, Pelosi’s talents lie in getting things done behind the scenes, not making herself look good in front of them. Now, with the country no longer mesmerized by Barack Obama and souring on the Democratic leadership and agenda, she needs to get off the stage.
But she refuses to go. Historically, most speakers whose party has been turned out of power accept responsibility for the defeat and allow new leadership to emerge. It is the logical course: only raw ego argues for anything else. Many believed that Pelosi would resign her seat and leave the House altogether. To the surprise of political observers, however, she announced that she would seek the post of Minority Leader, setting off a power struggle in her party. Current Majority Leader, Steny Hoyer, announced that he would seek the #2 power role of Minority Whip, pitting him against current whip James Clyburn, and also pitting Democratic moderates, represented by Hoyer, against the influential African-American leadership in the party, represented by Clyburn.
Meanwhile, Republicans are rejoicing. Pelosi’s return will look like one more Democratic refusal to respect the will of the public, and the prospect of having the same leadership trio of Obama, Reid and Pelosi leading the party after its electoral dressing down seems like a dream come true.
Pelosi’s decision is bad for her party and her colleagues, who have been loyal to her. It is also bad for the country, even if one believes, as many do not, that her imperious leadership style is justified by the legislative success it produces for progressive policies. Washington and the public trust are being poisoned by anger, cynicism and partisanship, and Pelosi shares the blame for all three. The Democrats desperately need a new style and a new symbol in Congress, and most in and out of the Democratic Party know it.
Nancy Pelosi’s refusal to step aside places her own ego above the needs of public service and country, and is as blatant an example of power corrupting judgment as one can imagine. At a time when all ethical considerations argue for her to swallow her pride and let others take over, she is willing to jeopardize not only her party’s comity, unity and image but her own legislative achievements.
In politics, having one’s most dedicated adversaries cheering your decision is a strong clue that you are missing something. In this case, what Nancy Pelosi is missing are accountability, humility, fairness, and common sense.
7 thoughts on “Ethics Dunce: Nancy Pelosi”
You nailed this. Pelosi has accomplished a lot, but she’s violated Reinhold Niebuhr’s admonition: ‘The temper of and integrity with which the political fight is waged is more important for the health of our society than the outcome of any issue or campaign.”
Given the opportunity to improve the temper of the political fight, she degraded it even further.
It’s not an excuse, but clearly she is a creature of the political culture, because almost everybody has rejected Niebuhr, and that ain’t good.
She’s more than a creature of the political culture, she’s a creator and practitioner of it. You and I have both written about how she always opts for partisanship over collaboration. Starting at the beginning of the administration she rejected Republican attempts at bipartisanship (yes–there were some). Even before that, in 2008 after the financial bailout was passed with Republican support, she held a press conference that excluded the Republicans who had helped get the bill through and save the world.
If I wanted to be annoying I would point out that we all create the culture we live in…but you are right—she took over Tom DeLay’s politics as warfare ethic without missing a beat.
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Acceptance of responsibility, accountability, humility and fairness are for the little people, Jack. Not for the Queen of the City By the Bay.
You know that.
That’s a lot to put on Robert Reich…