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OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: Nancy’s long shadow

by John Brummett | November 23, 2022 at 5:00 a.m.

Nancy Pelosi's defining moment came in 2008 when George W. Bush's treasury secretary, Hank Paulson, former chairman of Goldman Sachs, literally bowed before her.

The Wall Street Journal called the occasion "a moment of levity" intended to reduce the stress of the moment. The American financial system was cratering owing to irrational exuberance and unsustainable investment instruments based on value that wasn't real.

Paulson's job was to peddle to Congress a vital $700 billion bailout of the nation's leading investment institutions that famously were "too big to fail." He and an entourage went to Capitol Hill to lobby Speaker Pelosi. That's when Paulson knelt, and it's when Pelosi told him not to worry--that she knew her caucus and that it would vote to save the country's economy because, liberal aversion to bailing out irresponsible high finance aside, the circumstances demanded responsibility and the Democratic caucus was responsible.

Paulson's problem, Pelosi told him, would be with Republicans, who, she explained, were beset with unreasonable and destructive forces--now multiplied, I'd add.

Republicans came to detest her for those very qualities--strength, competence, command of her caucus in terms of compiling and counting votes, and a high threshold for disdain of Republicans, or at least the extreme ones.

They called that radical liberalism. But what it came down to was liberally inclined pragmatism, especially compared to the much-younger socialist likes of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Now Pelosi is retiring from leadership, if not, yet, Congress altogether. The first reason is personal. Her husband just got hammered about the skull by a man who was looking for her to break her knees because he disagreed with her politics. Her husband faces a long recovery and she faces the distress of such horror afflicting her husband and directed at her.

But generational reasons were decisive as well. Pelosi is 82 and has been the leading House Democrat for decades. The president from her party is, as of Sunday, 80. Her top lieutenants, Steny Hoyer and Jim Clyburn ... they're also in their 80s.

It's not ageist to say an organization needs to refresh its leadership every century or so.

The time for Democratic refreshing seems, if not past due, at least ripe. The party just had a better-than-expected midterm election owing in part to younger votes motivated by an aversion to Donald Trump and outrage over the repeal of Roe v. Wade by a Republican-dominated U.S. Supreme Court.

I remain dubious that the spiked Democratic motivation is sustainable as a generational phenomenon. I suspect the time will soon come when Trump will be gone, abortion emotion faded by time and widespread exceptions to abortion bans, and new Democratic motivation cooled.

Even so, Trump has announced he'll haunt decent civilization for a while longer and the abortion ruling remains unsettling and--on a national basis if not at all in Arkansas--a political advantage for Democrats. So, if the old-folk bosses are ever going to join the sunset, and if younger folks are ever going to hop on a wave of new energy and a perceived shift of political behavior, now seems the time.

That's with the possible exception of Joe Biden because no one more electable, especially against Trump, seems to exist currently in the presidential context for Democrats.

For that matter, Pelosi intends to stick around and advise at least through the transition.

At the moment, her leadership departure seems a greater loss for Republicans than Democrats. Both parties need opposing-party demons to inspire support. Trump has just offered to remain that for Democrats. Republicans need Pelosi, considering that Hunter Biden is not actually in Democratic leadership or even in the government.

There are many people who understand that it's not necessarily the fault of an 80-year-old man that a child he loves is quite a personal mess.

The threat to democracy--and that's clearly a political motivator for now--is greater from an aging insurrectionist running again for president than yesterday's lightning rod of a speaker of the House and yet another president's family problem.

Republicans will miss Pelosi something terrible. And, of Trump, I think they'll quote that old refrain, maybe from a country song: How can I miss you if you won't go away?

John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

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