The new speaker of the House of Representatives is tough and disciplined. But the Democrats still have a vision problemby James Crabtree / December 16, 2006 / Leave a comment
Published in December 2006 issue of Prospect Magazine
The US Democrats have just won their first election in a decade. They took back control of the House of Representatives without a single of their incumbents being defeated. They also look likely to win back control of the Senate, something few commentators had predicted prior to polling. And the party made breakthroughs in vital regions, not least in western states like Colorado and Arizona.
Over the coming weeks, few elements of this victory will make more headlines than the party’s choice of speaker. Nancy Pelosi, a liberal from San Francisco, now leaps past Hillary Clinton, Condi Rice and Madeleine Albright to become the most senior woman in American political history. She becomes also the first ever female speaker, putting her second in the line of succession to the president. More importantly, she is now the public face of the Democratic party in the run-up the 2008 presidential election. Who is Pelosi? How much credit does she deserve for her party’s success? And what does her ascent tell us about politics in the Bush era?
To answer these questions we must first put the victory in context. During the campaign, commentators speculated about a “Democratic wave,” a thumping victory similar to that won by Newt Gingrich for the Republicans in 1994. In the event this did happen, although only to a limited extent. This is, at least in part, because the political landscape of modern America makes Democratic landslide victories all but impossible; a decade-long pandemic of gerrymandering has sharply reduced the number of competitive congressional districts, and Republican superiority in organisation, fundraising and voter mobilisation make a Democratic victory more difficult still.
Yet this lop-sided electoral geography could not completely disguise Republican unpopularity….