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READING BETWEEN THE LINES
Pelosi takes a page from Bush's book

By Lance Selfa | December 6, 2002 | Page 9

IN THE wake of the Democrats' defeat in November's elections, Washington pundits said the Democrats could "shift to the left" to inspire their base for upcoming elections. The election of Rep. Nancy Pelosi to head the Democratic caucus in the House of Representatives was supposed to be a symbol of this shift.

Right-wing talk show hosts and Republican operatives expressed glee at being able to turn a "San Francisco Democrat"--with all the gay-baiting that phrase implied--into the face of the Democratic Party. But if Pelosi's appearance on November 17's Meet the Press was any indication, the Democrats' "shift to the left" lasted about three days.

Under questioning from host Tim Russert, the "progressive" turned into a mealy-mouthed politician of the "center" all too ready to say "me too" to President Bush.

Would she oppose a war against Iraq without United Nations approval? "If our young people are called to duty," Pelosi said, "certainly we'll support the action of the president." Only months before, she--a member of the intelligence committee investigating the September 11 attacks--had chided the White House for failing to present any evidence to justify an attack on Iraq.

What was her solution to the millions of unemployed who received nothing from Bush's economic policies? She said she and Democrats would work to "grow the economy" and "create jobs." Those meaningless phrases could have come from Bush's mouth.

Columnist Arianna Huffington quipped that "Invasion of the Body Snatcher" pods had taken over Pelosi's body. But this was the real Pelosi talking.

The ease with which she won her race to succeed Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) as minority leader should have been the first clue that she's not a firebrand, but a mainstream Democratic politician. "Pelosi got her new job as minority leader the old-fashioned way--she bought it, raising some $8 million for House Democrats in the last election cycle and crisscrossing the country handing out the checks," wrote Doug Ireland in the LA Weekly.

In San Francisco, she's part of a machine that fronts for real-estate developers in a city that faces the greatest crisis of affordable housing in the country. She won her first--and only--contested election to Congress after tagging her opponent as a "gay socialist." On issues of U.S. relations with China and Israel, she's indistinguishable from right-wing fanatics like incoming House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas).

Pelosi's story could stand for the post-Clinton Democratic Party as a whole. This fall, the Democrats faced an election season with a number of issues tailor-made for a populist appeal to ordinary people against corporate crooks and economic policies benefiting the rich.

But today's Democrats pocket too much corporate cash to sound very convincing as champions of the non-rich. Their corporate reform bills were meant to "restore investor confidence," rather than to, say, guarantee every worker the right to a pension. And they fought more fiercely to preserve corporations' rights to issue stock options than they did to preserve aid to the jobless.

So Democrats were left with a grab bag of policies, from a "patients' bill of rights" to opposition to oil drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge. However worthy any of these positions is individually, they sound pretty small-scale when more than 40 million Americans have no health insurance or when thousands could die in a war in the Middle East.

Today's "liberal agenda" has become so minimal as to give few people a reason to vote for it. It's become so minimal that Republicans could say they too supported Medicare prescription drug benefits or a "patients' bill of rights."

With millions seeing no reason to vote for the candidates that are supposed to represent liberalism, the assertion that liberals like Pelosi are "out of touch" with a majority of Americans isn't just right-wing propaganda. It's reality.

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