I captured an interesting comment from former Majority Leader Tom DeLay over the weekend. He was critiquing the Pelosi operation in the house. Let's look at his comment in full.
DeLay accused Democrats of “arrogance” after CNN host Candi Crowley asked DeLay how House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have a Democrat-controlled House, Senate and White House, but haven’t been able to secure passage of President Obama’s health-care bill.
“It’s because they’re going back in rooms and then telling the members, take it or leave it. You can’t do that. It’s obvious,” he said.
DeLay contrasted Pelosi’s handling of the health-care bill process to when he was in the Republican leadership and “knew which members were having problems and we’d take care of those problems so that by the time it got to the floor, they wanted to vote for it because they had ownership of it.”
But now, he explained, “Nancy Pelosi writes the bill, hands it to the chairman, says ‘get it out of committee in an hour and we’re going to the floor, we’re going to debate it and I’ll break arms if you vote against me.’ That will come to haunt you and bring you down.”
This speaks volumes. It means that when the wind turns against Nancy Pelosi it will turn hard. Maybe it already did.
We often complain of the way that politics works, the log-rolling, the back-scratching. But it's done that way because it works that way. Members of Congress are not nobodies that can be bullied around. At least, not much. And the closer that wavering members come to November 2010 the less they are likely to vote with the leaders.
In fact, we are seeing the fundamental weakness of the Democratic strategy since 2005. The idea was to get moderates and conservatives elected in Republican leaning districts. That's fine, so long as you have a moderate agenda to enact when you get into office. That way you build confidence and trust and maybe a permanent majority.
But that's not what the Dems did. Once they won control of Congress and the presidency they threw all the moderate talk overboard and went for a partisan, left-wing agenda. But that's not what the swing Democrats were elected to do.
Conservatives have a similar situation: the RINO problem. Republicans from states in the North East have not been willing to vote the conservative agenda. No wonder. Their constituents didn't want it. But conservatives hated their timidity. Yet the moderate Republicans kept the GOP from doing what the Democrats are now doing. Going way off the center ground and leaving it wide open for the other party.
The way you avoid conflict and dangerous polarization in politics is by nudging the political center a little bit in your direction and then coming back next year for more. This strategy is the despair of partisans (like me) but it is the decent thing to do. People from the center and from the other party are Americans too. They deserve the right to have their voices heard and to feel that, even if they are out of power, they have an input into the governance of the nation.
I remain convinced that the Democrats are making a major strategic mistake that will echo through the politics of the nation for decades. But try telling Democrats that! Try getting them to listen to good old Tom DeLay, the former small businessman with a pest-control business.
Still, it's often best to learn the hard way. That way you really learn the lesson, good and hard.