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The persistence of failed congressional leadership

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Wide White: The persistence of failed congressional leadership

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The persistence of failed congressional leadership

When an entire country rejects your political platform by one of the largest nationwide election turnovers in history, you would think a shake-up in your party's leadership would be coming.

With the Democrats in the House of Congress in Washington, that's not the case.
  • Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is now the House Minority Leader.
  • Majority Leader Steny Hoyer is now the Minority Whip.
  • Majority Whip Jim Clyburn is now the "Assistant Democratic Leader," a newly-created third-ranking position created especially for him to avoid a fight between Clyburn and Hoyer over the minority whip position.
  • Caucus Chairman John Larson remains in his position.
The top 4 leaders of a party that lost its majority in astounding fashion remains just as it was before.

Pelosi offers little more than excuses.
"I'd like to see what your (approval) ratings would be" if $75 million in negative ads had been spent against you, she told one reporter.
She's right, but her persistence is also unprecedented.

Let's take a look at other losing majority leaders over the last 100 years. Normal font reflects Speakers who did not retain leadership positions, italics reflects those who did.
  • 2006 - Dennis Hastert (R-IL), stepped down from leadership and resigned from office the next year.
  • 1994 - Tom Foley (D-WA), lost election for his seat in Congress.
  • 1954 - Joseph Martin (R-MA), elected Minority Leader but ousted 4 years later after major Republican losses.
  • 1952 - Sam Rayburn (D-TX), elected Minority Leader.
  • 1948 - Joseph Martin (R-MA), elected Minority Leader.
  • 1946 - Sam Rayburn (D-TX), elected Minority Leader.
  • 1930 - Nicholas Longworth (R-OH), was not elected Minority Leader.
  • 1918 - Champ Clark (D-MO), elected Minority Leader.
  • 1910 - Joseph Gurney Cannon (R-IL), was not elected Minority Leader.
At face value, Pelosi appears to be with the majority. After all, 5 of the 9 party turnovers have seen the Speaker retain leadership within their party.

However, it's hardly reasonable to compare this scenario with that of Rayburn and Martin, close friends who traded positions as Speaker while America waffled between their respective parties. Each retained their leadership positions as they traded 2- and 4-year stints in the majority before Martin's Republicans took significant losses 4 years after his last minority stint and he was ousted from leadership.

Removing Martin and Rayburn as examples, Champ Clark was the only one of the other 5 majority leaders to retain a leadership position after his party lost. His party sustained a 22-seat wartime loss, enough to tip the delicate political balance to the Republicans but not enough to cost him his seat.

Pelosi's grip on the Democratic leadership in Congress is simply unprecedented, not to mention the retention of the other top 3 Democratic leaders. Losses alone aren't a good reason to oust someone from leadership, but losses of such historic proportions would typically lead to consequences for anyone in a leadership position.

I'm having trouble seeing how this will possibly help Democrats re-establish credibility with the American people.

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Blogger watchman declared,

When it comes right down to it, the leader's position was hers for the taking. Steny Hoyer's (who would LOVE the leader position) clear base of support came from moderates. The moderate ranks were nearly wiped out in the midterms. This left a more liberal caucus, which is bread and butter for Pelosi. If she wanted it, it was hers. She is a hero to liberals.

What really concerns me is the new polarized and radicalized House we now have. Moderate democrats were replaced by radical Tea Partiers and the only Dems to keep their spots were liberals in safe districts.

Michigan's first district is a classic example. Bart Stupak (a conservative Dem) was ran out of town by one of the worst smear campaigns I have ever seen. To replace him, GOP had a primary between a moderate Republican (he even had labor union support) and a Tea Party wacko. Of course, they picked the Tea Party wacko. The Tea Party Wacko beat a moderate Dem in the General.

What's wrong with being a moderate? They tend to be more thoughtful and nuanced in their thinking on the issues. This last election, they were wiped out and our system will suffer for it.

11/18/2010 9:27 AM  
Blogger Joey declared,

I don't have any concerns about polarization. I have concerns about anything getting done. As you noted, both parties kept their leadership intact. That doesn't say much for the whole mantra of change from Democrats 2 years ago or Republicans in this cycle. Both are going with the same stale leadership.

I don't know anything about the "wacko" in your district, but I've seen mixed results from the Tea Party. Some are bonafide crazies - O'Donnell - and others seem pretty reasonable - Rubio. Nothing is wrong with being a moderate, but nothing is wrong with being liberal or conservative either. The verbiage and actions are where the polarization happens.

11/19/2010 12:52 AM  
Blogger watchman declared,

Polarization is a part of our system, yes. But I think that is more of a diagnosis than a remedy. Practically, there are elements of our society that are pushing the parties to the extremes. Polarization limits compromise and without compromise, stagnation occurs.

I think the next two years are going to be an awful dogfight.

11/21/2010 10:32 AM  

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