Sunday, December 21, 2008

If Pelosi "wears the pants," Obama is screwed

By Rick Morris

Politico has reported that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has informed new Obama Administration enforcer Rahm Emanuel that she is not going to be "triangulated." That reference appears to be invoking the Clinton era, when Bubba tried to position himself as more centrist than the Congressional Republicans and Democrats who were jousting over legislation. Clearly, San Fran Nan doesn't want a repeat of those days, with Barack Obama looking moderate at her expense and selling out their precious "progressive values."

Well, Emanuel is supposedly a tough guy who was brought in to help rein in the large Democratic majorities and help get bills passed on Obama's terms, so notwithstanding his climb through the ranks under Pelosi in the House, it's hard to believe that he was cowed by her threats.

As an ideologue on the other side, I'm more than a bit amused by this intramural squabbling. But as a student of history, I'm equally intrigued by what lessons have been drawn from the recent past.

In 1977, Jimmy Carter assumed the presidency after having run against Washington D.C. during the campaign. He came in with huge majorities in both houses of Congress, but party loyalty played little role in how the executives and legislators conducted themselves -- the struggle for primacy on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue concluded almost inevitably in Ted Kennedy challenging the prez for reelection. Carter's inability to get along with Bob Byrd and Tip O'Neill doomed him to one term just as surely as the Iran hostage situation and brutal economic mismanagement.

Sixteen years after Carter came to office, Bill Clinton took over after a campaign of his own that bashed D.C., but he put that rhetoric aside almost immediately. His immediate toadying to Congressional barons poisoned his image and led straight to the GOP takeover of both chambers in 1994. From there, he switched to triangulation as a means of survival, at least until a gullible public boosted his popularity to new heights when he posed as a victim after being caught lying under oath years later.

So Carter started his (only) term as confrontational and stayed in that mode, paying a steep price. Clinton overcompensated in his read of history, only to swing back to a middle path when that proved to be a disaster.

Pelosi is now laying down the law to the Obama team, insisting that she will fight any move to cut moderate deals to move legislation. Govern from the hard left or not at all, she is saying. I have maintained all along that Obama is smarter than many around him, as his transition is proving thus far. He knows that following Pelosi off the left-wing cliff will doom him -- and you can ask the "Right Reverend Wright" what happens to those who become inconvenient to him. For all the hullaballoo about whether Obama has what it takes to stand up to international tyrants, an equally important question for his political future will be whether he can stand up to NoCal Nancy.

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