Either Nancy Pelosi
really does think her Democrats are going to do much, much better than expected
at the polls in a little over a month -- or the House Speaker should have gone to Yale Drama
and given La Streep
some real competition.
Ever since White House press secretary Robert Gibbs first suggested
back in July that Democrats could lose the House, Pelosi has often seemed alone in her grasp
of the fact that defeatism isn't energizing. Depressed Democrats don't rush the barricades, but stay home with the curtains drawn on Election Day, eating bowls of parsley potatoes and rereading Paul Krugman's funniest columns. Repeatedly, she's said, "We are not yielding one single grain of sand.'' And again on Friday, she made her best case for the best-case scenario.
In high spirits during an hour-long conversation with half a dozen reporters, she insisted that despite polls that give her only a one in three chance of retaining the majority, her party's district-by-district "ground game" is working better than we think. Her members will prevail, she said, if they "tattoo Republican candidates with the source of their money" – namely, the insurance companies and big banks Democrats took on when they passed health care and financial reform. Special interests pumping vast sums into Republican campaign coffers, she cracked, "give new meaning to the term 'Buy American.' ''
When I asked her which political party the Tea Party movement will ultimately help more, she said, "I'm not here to put anybody down, but most of our members are not even seeing Tea Party activists in their districts. But nationally, it's helpful; somebody said it was amusing until Delaware,'' where Tea Party favorite Christine O'Donnell beat longtime Republican Congressman Mike Castle in the Senate primary. "Then it got frightening.''
Her members "left here pretty optimistic'' as they headed home to campaign, she said. "It was a fond leaving of the Capitol that we had. Many of the members have told me that a lot of the hoop-dee-do'' about how bad things are just isn't what they're seeing back home. "We have the candidates, and the candidates will always tell.'' Another positive sign, she said, was the general lack of enthusiasm for the GOP's "Pledge to America
," which she noted has been "what's a euphemism for dumped on? -- I'm trying to be a lady -- by some of their own people.''
She refused to entertain any questions predicated on significant Democratic losses in November -- "I wouldn't want to waste your time" – and said she was more than happy to let her members distance themselves from her on the campaign trail, or declare that even if they do hold the House, they'll vote against her as Speaker next year: "I say, "Go for it. Just win your election!' It's not about me; it's about the middle class."
Even some Democrats have criticized Pelosi for adjourning until after the midterms without voting on whether to extend the expiring Bush tax cuts -- presumably because she didn't have the votes for a bill that would have extended the cuts for the middle class, but ended them for the wealthiest Americans. Yet she was adamant that the bill would have passed easily if she'd put it to a vote.
Yes, 39 House Democrats joined Republicans in an effort to force a vote before heading home, and yes, Pelosi had to take the unusual step of voting so that the Democrats could win that one, 210 to 209. But she said she was happy to let those 39 members go their own way on that, too: "I didn't bring the vote for a simple reason. That bill would have sailed through -- we probably would have gotten Republican votes -- but I didn't allow it. Do I give them [Republicans] an opportunity to misrepresent again what we're doing?'' – by mischaracterizing the bill as a tax increase for average Americans.
The Republican talking point, of course, is that the cuts should be extended for all Americans, while Democrats insist that their plan does just that. (Those who make more than $250,000 would pay taxes on any earnings beyond that; in other words, someone who makes $251,000 would pay a higher rate on $1,000 of his income.)
But Republicans don't want tax cuts for the middle class, Pelosi said, "unless we worship at the shrine of those [making] over $250,000...They want to turn [America] into a plutocracy or an oligarchy. And I just will not give them more grist for the grinder when they have a 100-million-dollar grinder.''
Since the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling and subsequent FEC rulings that have legalized unlimited corporate donations that can now be used to finance and attack specific candidates, "it's not a level playing field'' any more, she said. "That's why we have to tattoo'' Republicans in a way that links them to their corporate sponsors.
She laughed when asked why, since the Democrats had accomplished much of what Obama promised to do if elected, voters seemed so unhappy. "I'll tell you why -- 9 ½ percent unemployment! Any political party that could not exploit 9 ½ percent unemployment ought to hang up their gloves!'' Then, too, she said, "You don't get points for saying 'it would have been much worse' '' without the bailouts and the stimulus, even if that happens to be the case.
Pushback against the Democratic agenda is no surprise, she said. "The crown jewel of our accomplishments is health care reform, and for months and months and months it was a pinata – 'It's about abortion,' 'It's about socialized medicine' -- and it was a complete lie put forward'' by the insurance lobby that's now claiming the bill has forced them to raise rates "they were going to raise anyway.''
The proof that Republicans would rather have campaign issues than accomplishments, she said, is that only one Republican voted for the bill that will funnel $30 billion through community banks to ease credit for small businesses, and offer $12 billion more in tax breaks.
Some House Democrats have groused that they voted for the unpopular cap-and-trade energy bill passed by the House and now have to defend that vote back home, though it never even went to a vote in the Senate. Does Pelosi regret passing the bill? "Absolutely not,'' she said, calling that legislation "a point of great pride for us, and a great step for our country.''
Asked why the Democratic base is so unexcited, she said that was no mystery, either: "I am the base. I was as dissatisfied and unhappy 30 years ago that everything we marched and campaigned for'' hadn't yet happened as progressives are now.
In races in her home state of California, she predicted that Sen. Barbara Boxer would easily beat Republican challenger Carly Fiorina, and that her friend Jerry Brown would best Meg Whitman in the gubernatorial race even if the former eBay CEO were to pour another record-breaking $119 million of her own money into the campaign: "With $100 million, if they [Team Whitman] had a story to tell, they'd be ahead by now.''