If there’s still room under the bus where Barack Obama throws his discards - his white granny, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Tony Rezko, William Ayres, Bernadine Dohrn and even Hillary Clinton - that’s the right place for Nancy Pelosi.
The congressional bailout of Wall Street, as unpopular as it is, was nevertheless headed for grudging acceptance Monday until Mzz Pelosi, the dowager queen of the San Francisco Democrats (where there are many queens), killed it with a particularly mean-spirited attack on the Republicans whom the Democrats were counting on to join them for just this one bipartisan vote.
“$700 billion is a staggering number,” she told her caucus just before the vote was taken, “but only a part of the cost of the failed Bush economic policies to our country.” If only she had waited until the vote was safely taken before she began biting the ankles of the Republicans she needed, there might have been a successful vote, and no record 700-point tanking of the market on Wall Street.
This morning, millions of Americans could have taken a half-breath as everyone moved a half-step back from the edge of the abyss.
Rep. John A. Boehner of Ohio, whose state is perhaps the most crucial of the must-win states for both John McCain and Barack Obama, was disbelieving after the vote: “I do believe that we could have gotten there today, had it not been for this partisan speech that the speaker gave on the floor of the House.” Mzz Pelosi “poisoned the debate,” the House Republican leader said.
Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri, the chief Republican whip, said many of his colleagues were ready to find a clothespin to hold their noses while voting “aye,” but not after Mzz Pelosi’s bizarre remarks. There were no clothespins big enough to repel the speaker’s partisan stink.
Rep. Adam Putnam of Florida, one of the Republicans hustling bailout votes, said her speech “set the partisan tone and cost us votes.” About a third of the Republicans finally joined the 60 percent of the Democrats who voted for the measure, which had been worked out over the kind of desperate weekend Washington hadn’t seen since, well, nobody remembered when. Pearl Harbor?
Mzz Pelosi’s near-death experience didn’t teach her much. After the vote, she said merely that the bailout package had been written on “a bipartisan basis” - indeed correct - and that she had produced the Democratic votes, just not enough of them. What she didn’t say was that there were probably enough Republican votes to save the day but for her insistence on taking victory laps before a victory.
Perhaps her tantrum was not a tantrum at all, but a carefully orchestrated two-step to pay back John McCain for his attempt to get Barack Obama back to Washington, even if it meant postponing the Ole Miss debate (that neither man won), where together they could have twisted enough Republican and Democratic arms to win passage of the bailout that nobody wanted and nearly everybody agreed was necessary. If Mr. Obama had made common cause with Mr. McCain even after the debate in Mississippi, there might still have been enough time to make the difference.
Maybe that’s what the Obama campaign wanted to avoid. The tears the Anointed One shed after the vote looked a lot like the tears of a crocodile. He even tried to be lighthearted, to show a little insouciance if not actual wit. (An insouciant Barack Obama? Who knew?) He’s “confident” of a “solution,” but “it’s sort of like flying into Denver. You know you’re going to land, but it’s not always fun going over those mountains.”
This sets up an opportunity, maybe the last good one, for John McCain to start burning barns. Who better to start it than Sarah Palin, the stubborn mom with true grit who so terrifies the Democratic left, to debate - in her own voice, unrestrained by the Nervous Nellies and Willie Wimps of the McCain camp who don’t understand her Everywoman appeal - Joe Biden about what’s real, about the prospect not of a recession but a depression, and the tough decisions ahead and the need for a maverick president with the experience of persuading partisan foes of making painful decisions.
Merely voting “present” won’t do it. The people in all 57 states, clinging bitterly to God, guns and now to their life’s savings, deserve nothing less.
• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.