The single most dramatic change in the complexion of our government emerging from the midterm election is the impending leadership change in the House of Representatives. Republican John Boehner will be replacing Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House. He will be seated next to Joe Biden behind President Obama for the State of the Union Address in early 2011. You may want to take some time now to adjust the tint and color intensity on your hi-def flat screen.
History will be made when Boehner becomes first orange-American Speaker of the House“In January, America will pass another milestone on the road to full equality when Ohio Republican Rep. John Boehner becomes the first orange-American Speaker of the House.Boehner’s unique skin has made him a target of liberal mockery, and talk of his tan has often eclipsed discussion of what he actually says or does. Even President Obama has gotten in on the fun, joking at the 2009 White House Correspondence Dinner that he and Boehner “have a lot in common. He is a person of color—although not a color that appears in the natural world.”
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I don’t want to fall into the trap flagged by the Daily Caller and lose sight of the content while caught up in the novelty of our first Orange Speaker of the House. In terms of the meaning of the election and the role John Boehner will play, I cannot say it any better than Jonathan Rauch on the pages of the New York Times:
A GRAND victory for Republicans in the 2010 midterm election? Yes, of course. But also no. In all three of the most recent earthshaking midterm elections — 1994, 2006 and now 2010 — the same candidate won: divided government. That is not a coincidence. In the last two decades, a strong and persistent pattern has emerged, one that will dominate our politics for some time to come, because it is rooted in two important political realities. First, the public strongly prefers divided government. Second, it has every reason to…
But divided government, in today’s world of ideologically polarized parties, is the only way of attaining sustainable bipartisanship. And that is likely to remain the case for the foreseeable future. By promising to transcend partisanship in an all-Democratic government, President Obama, in 2008, promised something he had no prayer of delivering. Paradoxically, the three words that will do the most to help him deliver on his broken promise of bipartisanship — and, indeed, that offer him the best hope of governing from the center, broadening his support and stabilizing his presidency — are these: Speaker John Boehner.”
Two Speakers, one coming in, one going out, characterized differently in the press. MSM reporting on one focusing on a reputation for toughness, ideological inflexibility and hardball partisan politics. MSM reporting for the other focusing on appearance and a penchant for emotional outbursts. I cannot help but wonder how the public and media would perceive the two if these reported characteristics were reversed. Would Nancy Pelosi get the same media treatment if she had a reputation for weeping on camera?
It is interesting to speculate how John Boehner will be covered by the media during the midterms four years hence. Perhaps a hint can be seen by recalling how Speaker Pelosi was perceived when she won the gavel four years ago.
First, a tip of the hat to a couple of regular Donk commenters – Cranky Critter for introducing me to a field of study I had heretofore been unaware of – Comparative Political Demonology™ – a phrase coined and defined by Tully some years ago. This subject is bit too broad for me, so I will focus here on a more specialized subset – Applied Relative Demonology as it pertains to the Speaker of the House in 2006, 2010 and 2014 mid-term elections. There may be a PHD thesis in there somewhere.
A great deal of electrons and ink are being spilled over the role Nancy Pelosi played in the 2010 election outcome and the political wisdom of her continuing to lead the Democrats in the House of Representatives as minority leader. She was demonized by Republicans as a San Francisco liberal steamrolling a progressive agenda over the objections of our center-right country. Indeed, as it turns out, being a reliable vote in the House of Representatives for Nancy Pelosi was a career limiting move for many Democratic Representatives. Pundits on the right and left inform conventional wisdom that she is a political poison of such devastating toxicity that her leadership of the minority Democrats would virtually guarantee Republican victories in 2012 and 2014. Color me unconvinced.
It is not like Nancy Pelosi has changed her politics since 2006. She was hardly an unknown quantity after serving 19 years in the House as representative and minority leader, and was not perceived politically any differently in 2006 by the electorate than she is today. She was demonized by Republicans in 2006 as a San Francisco liberal, yet that did not stop voters from sweeping Republicans from the majority and installing her as the first woman Speaker of the House, complete with her “San Francisco Values” baggage:
There were some differences between then and now. There was a Republican President, and the Democrats had a much bigger target to demonize in 2006. A Liberal Speaker of the House steeped in San Francisco Values does not sound so bad when the alternative is a corrupt political hack that “would not meet the moral standards of one of the most corrupt 1906 political participants of the most corrupt political organization in the history of the United States.” Hence “Relative Demonology”. After serving as Speaker of the House for two years, voters increased the Democratic majority in the House in 2008, dealing Pelosi an even stronger hand as Speaker. She didn’t change, but in 2006 and 2008, the Republican demons were worse.
For many Americans, John Boehner is more of an unknown today than Nancy Pelosi was in 2006. They know he is politically conservative, cries on camera, and is orange. That’s about it. What we will learn about him in his role as Speaker, how he will be perceived by the electorate in 2012 and 2014, and who is elected President in 2012 will be bigger factors in those elections than whether or not Nancy Pelosi continues to lead the Democrats in the House. Today, Boehner gets the benefit of the doubt from the electorate. Under the more intense and extended media scrutiny in his new role, the weeping everyman shtick could wear thin and even raise doubts about his fitness to lead.
Pelosi was widely credited with Democrats winning the House in 2006. She was an effective Speaker in 2007-8 when acting to restore some balance with a Republican administration. She was an even more effective speaker in driving the Democratic agenda set by the Obama administration through the House of Representatives in 2008-10.
If Democrats want effective, competent leadership in Congress, they should stick with Pelosi. We won’t see her crying on the floor of the House, and by 2014, an orange hued basket case weeping over tax cuts may very well be perceived as the relatively greater demon.
Cross posted from “Divided We Stand United We Fall”