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Sep 30 2008

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Nancy Pelosi Demonstrates Profiles in Failure

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In the end, she just couldn’t help herself.

This was a moment of genuine history. A vote on a laboriously negotiated and  carefully constructed financial stabilization package to address the worst economic crisis in nearly 80 years.

Rarely has Congress been more consequential or its response more timely. It was a moment for leadership, for responsibility, above all, for reconciliation and unity. It is the moment that can transform politicians into statesmen.

And Nancy Pelosi blew it.

Big time.

After three hours of anguished debate by members of both Parties, all torn between the necessity of a broad economic rescue to steady the US economy and the optics of rewarding robber barons on Wall Street, the Speaker took to the well of the House with only moments to go before the vote.

With all the nuance of a first-year backbencher, Mrs. Pelosi launched into a familiar, if utterly inappropriate partisan screed, blaming the financial crisis squarely on the policies of the Bush administration. Days of delicate negotiations unraveled before the vote even began. After keeping the clocks running well past the end of the vote, Democrats finally ceded defeat, 205-228.

It was a catastrophic defeat for Speaker Pelosi and her Democratic majority.

Campaigning for a majority and governing as a majority are two very different tasks, and after today, it is not altogether clear that the Democrats ever made the transition after 2006.

As Speaker of the House, Mrs. Pelosi chose to come to the floor today as a rank partisan, seemingly confident that her harsh words would have no consequences. You would think that the risk of alienating Members of the opposition would have been offset in advance, but as Party Leader, Pelosi and her team utterly failed to persuade 40% of her Caucus to vote with her on the most far-reaching pieces of legislation of this term, if not this decade.

Governing majorities are, at their heart, about responsibility and this seemed to have eluded Pelosi and Co., today. The exercise of power isn’t reserved only for the easy or popular things. And in preparing for and executing this crucial vote, Pelosi and the Democrats were reckless with words and sophomoric and ad hoc with strategy. As a governing Party, they failed miserably.

If this were only “inside baseball”, as Barack Obama is fond of calling congressional duties, it might not have a shelf life longer than a news cycle. But this wasn’t any vote.

Realizing that the package was not going to pass, the Dow Jones Industrial Average lost nearly 800 points, the worst one day point drop in history. The fate of international markets tonight and our own markets tomorrow make the prospect for economic calamity this week terrifyingly real, not for the humbled titans on Wall Street, but for the small businesses and home owners on Main Street as credit dries up and the economy slows down.

As for Plan B, well, Leadership will be back in touch. In the meantime, we are in dangerously uncharted waters.

As avoidable as today’s verdict was, it is the enduring irony of today’s calamity that voters, already furious with Washington dysfunction and partisanship, will likely reward those who brought you today’s recipe for failure come November 4th. The correlation between economic uncertainty and Democratic polling numbers is easy to chart.

In that regard, perhaps a method to the Speaker’s madness can be found in the election riches to be had amid institutional gridlock and an economy in turmoil on the front pages. If even remotely plausible, it tells you more than you’ll ever need to know about Washington controlled completely by Democrats.

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