How Dumb Was The Murtha Fight?
So dumb that even Gail Collins disapproves:
Nancy Pelosi has managed to severely scar her leadership even before taking up the gavel as the new speaker of the House. First, she played politics with the leadership of the House Intelligence Committee to settle an old score and a new debt. And then she put herself in a lose-lose position by trying to force a badly tarnished ally, Representative John Murtha, on the incoming Democratic Congress as majority leader. The party caucus put a decisive end to that gambit yesterday, giving the No. 2 job to Steny Hoyer, a longtime Pelosi rival.
But Ms. Pelosi’s damage to herself was already done. The well-known shortcomings of Mr. Murtha were broadcast for all to see — from his quid-pro-quo addiction to moneyed lobbyists to the grainy government tape of his involvement in the Abscam scandal a generation ago. The resurrected tape — feasted upon by Pelosi enemies — shows how Mr. Murtha narrowly survived as an unindicted co-conspirator, admittedly tempted but finally rebuffing a bribe offer: “I’m not interested — at this point.”
Mr. Murtha would have been a farcical presence in a leadership promising the cleanest Congress in history. Ms. Pelosi should have been first to realize this, having made such a fiery campaign sword of her vows to end Capitol corruption. Instead, she acted like some old-time precinct boss and lost the first test before her peers.
After every election, the winning party claims a mandate. The funny thing is, in 2006, the Democrats were delivered that rarity of rarities – an actual mandate. Everyone, left and right, is watching for evidence of change in a political process that has become uninspiring, beholden to lobbyists, and, in many cases, corrupt.
Murtha and Hastings represent the status quo way of ‘getting things done’ – personal loyalties over integrity, vote-swapping deal-making over principles. It’s just not going to play anymore…or the voters will throw these bums out along with the old bunch in 2008…
UPDATE 8:12 a.m.: Howard Fineman:
If Speaker-to-be Pelosi is going to succeed as Speaker of the House, she had better learn—fast—from the fiasco known as the Hoyer-Murtha Race. She violated every conceivable rule of Boss-like behavior: she lost, she lost publicly, she lost after issuing useless and unenforceable threats to people she barely had met, knowing (or having reason to know) that they would tell the world about her unsuccessful arm-twisting. And she lost big: by 149 to 86 votes.
One of the first rules of politics is that power is the appearance of power. Especially early in the game, you don’t risk that aura on a fight you are not sure you can win.
How will we know if Pelosi has learned any lessons? If she puts Jane Harman in the Intelligence Committee Chair where she belongs…