Who are the most terrifying persons currently resident on this planet?
You might be tempted to reply: Vladimir Putin, Mohammed bin Salman, or even our very own Donald John Trump – killers or wannabe-killers. But you would be wrong.
The people most feared on earth are a large group: old women. And the most fearsome of all are powerful old women. And of them all, right now the most feared, by Americans at least and particularly by Democrats, is Nancy Pelosi. (Not far behind are Dianne Feinstein and of course Hillary Clinton.)
All are treated very differently from men of their age, accomplishments, and position – and not in a good way. When they are not patronized they are demonized. They shouldn’t be where they are and are there only by chance (or marriage); or they have gotten to be where they are by destroying hapless males. They must be brought down, demolished, discredited.
I have written often about how Clinton gets this treatment, something that became evident in our uneasy shifting, during 2016, of public opinion from “she would be the smartest and best-prepared president we have ever had” to “she is incompetent and corrupt,” and finally, in some quarters, to, “she is a murderess.”
Feinstein gets her share of condescension. She’s too liberal, or too conservative. Her success is due to her rich husband. She alone is responsible for Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court membership.
Lock ‘em up! Lock ‘em up! Lock ‘em up! Or better, since they are witches who get their mysterious powers from dark sources, burn ‘em at the stake.
For the last several months, Democrats and Republicans have been acting with a bipartisanship that is rarely in evidence any more, to throw Nancy Pelosi under the bus. Pelosi, at the age of 78, is running for speaker of the House of Representatives. Since her tactics and strategy first as speaker and currently as minority leader have been critical to many if not most of the victories that have given the Democrats control of the House, it might seem a mere act of gratitude to return her to the speakership with thanks. She raised money for a majority of Democratic candidates and figured out how to allocate it to the best advantage. She laid out rhetorical strategies that led to victories, often unexpected in the extreme.
So it’s not surprising that she is seen as a threat by Republicans, or that they went out of their way to demonize her in the midterms. But how do her fellow Democrats, and in particular the newest members of the House, express their gratitude and approbation? Why, by trying to keep the speakership out of her hands. She is (naturally) too old, too liberal, too conservative, and lacks new ideas — the ones that the House Democrats who want to throw her out somehow keep neglecting to explain to us.
If there were House Democrats who had expressed new ideas and offered themselves as candidates for the speakership, their arguments might possibly be logical, rather than the result of the tasty combination of misogyny and ageism. But that is not the case at all. Clear thinkers have noted that you can’t replace something with nothing, but in this case Pelosi’s opponents are so scared and desperate that they are willing to make fools of themselves (and the party as a whole) by trying. Since there is no plausible candidate to run against her, and since the new ideas that she lacks are not in evidence anywhere, it is necessary to assume that the opposition arises not from plausible and logical reasoning, but from something else, something perhaps a little bit….medieval, shall we say? Or perhaps psychopathological is the word I am after.
Certainly the Middle Ages are a good place to look for fresh new ideas.
There are so many logical flaws in the anti-Pelosi argument that it may be tedious to attempt to cover them all, but let me give it a try:
First, as just noted: even if Pelosi had the terrible optical problems her opponents have charged her with, there is no one available with fewer.
Secondly, many of the House members who have promised to oppose her are exactly the people who should be silent and observant, because they have just been elected and don’t know how things work. Usually when someone enters a venerable institution, they have the good sense to realize that they have a lot to learn, and should not mouth off until they have learned how things work. The House, like any venerable institution, has a great many rules and bylaws, some explicitly codified and some that have accreted over time. Some might in fact be ripe for change, but there are good reasons for others. It’s helpful to know which are which. Since it is the speaker’s job to oversee the business of the House, she must know all these rules. Not only must she know all the rules, she must know which ones must be obeyed, which can be circumvented, and how. That arcane knowledge enables new ideas to get a hearing and be enacted. Charming and nubile as the newly elected class may be, neither of those virtues offer new ideas, much less make them irresistible. Hence age and experience are prerequisites for the job, rather than (as the whippersnappers would have it) impediments.
The sudden clamor for someone with fresh ideas (I have never heard this critique of a potential or actual male speaker) is misguided because that’s not the speaker’s job. There is currently a need for novelty, but novelty is the business of young members from safe districts. The speaker is not supposed to be a theorist.
Nor have speakers traditionally been expected to be mentors, training the more promising among the youth to eventually hold positions of leadership. Older members not in leadership positions have the time for that. The speaker’s jobs are: raising money and otherwise working to get party members elected; figuring out which measures might be able to pass and which may not, and enticing members who support the latter to let them go (like impeachment). In happier times, a competent speaker was able to determine which congresspersons on the other side of the aisle might be inveigled into working in a bipartisan way. Perhaps that’s still occasionally possible, but it’s certainly harder than it used to be. Having been around long enough to learn who across the aisle was reasonable, would definitely be a plus. It seems odd to me that suddenly there is an insatiable demand that a speaker take on new roles, when just performing the old ones well is more than a full-time job, one that must be learned gradually over time. If Pelosi is replaced by someone without her experience and talents, what do the Democrats think will happen in 2020, which will be an even more important election year than 2018?
The foregoing does not constitute rocket science. Politicians and pundits are well aware of everything I have said above. So why do so many Democrats and commentators argue in favor of replacing Pelosi with, um, nothing and nobody?
I know people like to look for complex and sophisticated arguments, and hate it when the reasons adduced for a position must be framed in terms of humanity’s most primitive versions of what passes for the thought process. But when a whole lot of otherwise smart and knowledgeable people are making arguments that patently not only make no sense, but are likely destructive – to the party, the House, and the country – it is time to realize that we humans are really only smart (or not-so-smart) monkeys. When viscerally threatened (e.g., when the gender and power dynamics of the species are rapidly being reorganized), even smart people may turn dumb.
Purely in terms of short- and long-term self-interest, the Democrats who have vowed to replace Pelosi are playing a suicidal game (nothing new for the Dems, of course). Their futzing around with the speakership recalls the old adage: organizing the Democrats is like herding cats. For a while this past year, they seemed to be getting past that, but in this fracas they appear to be losing their discipline and their cohesion. At a moment when they should be united in joyous victory, they are childishly tearing themselves apart. They are looking for a cute young face, rather than a mind that has spent seventy-eight years acquiring wisdom.
Most inexplicable and distressing of all is the answer to the question: who is the source of the ditch-Pelosi drive? Why, the Republicans, of course, who ran their House campaigns this year on out-with-Pelosi. Why would they do that? Well, first, because it’s easy to drive their constituency (largely male) into conniptions at the very thought of a woman with power. And secondly, because the Republicans know that if they can get the Democrats to dump Pelosi, that would inevitably cause a deep rift among their rivals, and worse, whoever replaced Pelosi could not conceivably do her job anywhere near as well as she has done it. And that would be very, very good for the Republicans now and in 2020.
How dumb does a party have to be to understand that you should be extremely cautious about taking advice from your opponents? That is especially true if a large number of your most ardent supporters are older women, who vote in large numbers and support the party in other ways? Just keep on denigrating the old and female, and see what happens. The Dems are welcome to take that as a threat.
The Kool-Aid of ageism + misogyny is not something that the Democrats should be tempted to swallow. It is much more in tune with the Republican agenda: everyone who is not us – straight Christian middle-aged white men – can be ignored and mocked. That is not the America the Democrats should pursue. If we become more like the Republicans, as the midterm elections should have made clear, we will destroy ourselves and everything we care about.
Superstitions like witchcraft are all too attractive. But now is the time to pursue more difficult, grownup goals. The future properly belongs to those who can see beyond mere shiny objects to a more complex vision in which people are valued for the unique talents that they can offer, rather than for their ability to match the corrosive stereotypes that primitive thinking demands..