People want to put a lot of blame for the current conditions of the nation — from the bad economy to the heightened partisanship — on Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. There is certainly a level of truth to that, but perhaps not as much as one would think. In a few weeks, one of the primary political players responsible for both the batch of controversial legislation coming from Congress and the elevation of partisan animosity swirling on Capitol Hill will walk away from her post. A lower profile will allow her political legacy to begin fading into the kind of historical obscurity that no president would ever enjoy.
And in the anonymity that the passage of time will give her, current Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi will be able to avoid a deserved wave of criticism for her years of vilifying Bush, undermining the nation's war efforts during a time when our young people were serving in harm's way, and overseeing some of the worst backroom deals imaginable to pass unpopular and expensive legislation — all while the country further divided itself along party lines.
Make no mistake about it: For years now, most Republicans and conservatives across the nation have cast Pelosi as a villain — and rightfully so. The successful Republican National Committee campaign "Fire Pelosi" was the subject of a bus tour that summed up the sentiment of the political right: President Obama may not be right for America, but Speaker Pelosi must be immediately removed from power within Congress because of her style of leadership. Her record justifies those sentiments, although those who don't study history, as well as those who have a political junkie's attention span, will soon forget how Pelosi contributed to the mess in which we currently find ourselves.
As leader, Pelosi oversaw the rigging of the health care reform vote in Congress through compromises (called bribes outside the Beltway) that benefited specific states and the Blue Dog Democrats who would not have voted for the legislation otherwise. She grinned as her congressional cohorts squeezed the vote through at the last hour this past March. Her leadership oversaw omnibus bills and stimulus packages that included loads of pork at a time when government spending needed to come down in order to get a handle on the national debt.
As for her failure to negotiate with Republicans, it came from an arrogance so strong that it actually melted away the overwhelming majority her party had in the House. Within what seemed like a flash, the Democrats went from being the national political party that was to rule for a generation (i.e., the "Obama generation" of new, young voters who would maintain Democratic majorities for years to come) to becoming the minority party in the House after losing more than 60 seats on Pelosi's watch.
Yet the health care reform bill currently under attack is called Obamacare, not Pelosi-bribes-a-care. The stimulus package and spending bills that failed are said to be Obama's fault, although Pelosi's House of Representatives initially attempted to bake self-serving projects into the final price tag. The divisiveness that has captured the nation is part of the legacies of both Obama and his predecessor, although the only person recently capable of stoking the fires of nation-crippling division — first as a partisan minority leader, then as a partisan majority leader against a president from the other side of the aisle and then as a speaker presiding over a huge majority — has been Pelosi.
Fortunately for Pelosi, most Americans are not political junkies who are keen on facts concerning the legacy, successes and failures of House speakers. This political reality, for better or worse, means that the legislative successes and failures of a president's party will be reflected in the legacy of that president — not the speaker. And sadly for Bush and Obama, the failures of Congress under their watch will be blamed on them, even though the driver of both the legislative agenda and the extreme partisanship in the House was Pelosi.
For those of us forced to live through the Pelosi Days of Winter, we know that it will not be morning again in America until — at the very most — she is minority leader in the House. For the Obama presidential legacy and Americans' hopes for economic and societal recovery, January 2011 cannot come soon enough.
Lenny McAllister is a syndicated political commentator and the host of the morning radio show Launching Chicago With Lenny McAllister at 5 a.m. on WVON, The Talk of Chicago 1690 AM. He is the author of an upcoming edition of the book The Obama Era, Part I (2008-2010): Diary of a Mad Black PYC (Proud Young Conservative). Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.