- - Tuesday, July 4, 2017


Despite all she can do about it, Nancy Pelosi looks less like a bird of paradise than an albatross. The Ancient Mariner would recognize her in a San Francisco minute. Losing that special election in Georgia, which the Democrats had counted on to give them momentum heading into the midterm congressional elections next year, was the last of several bitter disappointments.

Losing that race, says Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, “better be a wake-up call for Democrats. Business as usual isn’t working.” Rep. Filemon Vela Jr. of Texas agrees. “I think it’s pretty clear that Leader Pelosi does not help our candidates in those swing districts that are so necessary for us to win in 2018.”

Wanting to continue to be the leader of “the loyal opposition” doesn’t quite explain why Mrs. Pelosi insists on sticking around long past her sell-by date. The graveyards are full of indispensable men, as the wise man said, but Mrs. Pelosi thinks she’s the exception to the ancient wisdom.

“I’m a master legislator,” she says. Too bad for her, this just might not be the time for old masters. Mrs. Pelosi herself arrived on Capitol Hill 30 years ago last month by way of a special election, and she has been in the party’s leadership since 2002. “I’m experienced in terms of knowing institutional memory of the Congress.”

Perhaps. She can count it as good fortune that she’s not in a parliamentary system where she would have been dumped as party leader after the Republican landslide of 2010, when the Democrats lost a remarkable 63 seats in the House. “The rationale for getting new leadership,” says Rep. Kathleen Rice of New York Democrat, “is that we’re losing and we’ve been losing since 2010.”

House Democrats have stumbled in the wilderness since, their ranks decimated to a 70-year low, but Mrs. Pelosi continues to hang on, hoping for the miracle that she will one day once more wield the speaker’s gavel. The budding insurrection in the Democratic ranks is still small, but the grumbling is getting louder. It’s led by junior members of the Democratic caucus, who see the party’s sclerotic leadership in the way of a rising younger generation.

Two challenges to her leadership, following the 2010 and 2016 elections, fell far short, due in no small part to Mrs. Pelosi’s prodigious ability to raise money, which she has distributed with a generous hand. Her Democratic critics usually preface calls for her to step aside by insisting, more in sorrow than in anger, that the Republicans have unfairly painted her and her “San Francisco values” as deadly poison. And indeed they have, because it works.

The younger congressional Democrats who want her gone must be careful lest they get what they wish for, because the No. 2 and No. 3 Democrats in the House leadership are less the backbone of the party than a collection of aches and bones, long past their sell-by dates, too.

Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the House minority whip, turned 78 last month (a year older than Mrs. Pelosi), and Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, the assistant House Democratic leader, turns 77 this month. Even if Mrs. Pelosi does call it a career, her replacement would be a transfusion of tired blood, and you can’t restore a tired party with tired blood.

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