Friday, November 17, 2006

MAUREEN DOWD: Squeaker of the House

Ted Olson, the former solicitor general and eloquent Republican lawyer who argued the Bush v. Gore case before the Supreme Court, was warming up the rabidly conservative Federalist Society crowd for John McCain with a few sexist cracks about Botox.

The new Congress could amuse itself, he said, by “searching for any sign of movement in Speaker Pelosi’s forehead.” The Senate, he added, would be entertained by “the expressionless, Pelosi-like forehead of Senator Clinton.”

It reminded you of just how idiotic Republicans can act sometimes. The only thing worse than hearing the first female speaker of the House filleted in such a lame way was seeing the first female speaker of the House flail around in her first big week in such a lame way. It reminded you of just how idiotic Democrats can act sometimes.

Nancy Pelosi’s first move, after the Democratic triumph, was to throw like a girl. Women get criticized in the office for acting on relationships and past slights rather than strategy, so Madame Speaker wasted no time making her first move based on relationships and past slights rather than strategy.

Instead of counting votes behind closed doors or even just choosing the best person for majority leader, Ms. Pelosi offered an argument along the lines of: John Murtha’s my friend. He’s been nice to me. I don’t like Steny. He did something a long time ago that was really, really bad that I’m never, ever going to tell you. And I’m the boss of you. So vote for John.

As the adage goes, if you shoot at the king, you’d better kill him. And if you’re the queen and you shoot at your knight, you’d better kill him too, or you end up looking like a weak sister.

Democratic lawmakers, who should have been basking, were left baffled as Nancy, spanked by her flock, strained to make nice with Steny.

“I just wish Mom and Dad would get along so I don’t have to split my weekends,” moaned one.

Everyone in Washington was perplexed at Ms. Pelosi’s ham-handed effort to sabotage not only Mr. Hoyer but her former friend and fellow Californian, Jane Harman. In what looks like another self-defeating personality clash, she has been maneuvering to bypass the senior member of the House Intelligence Committee and give the chairmanship either to the ethically challenged Alcee Hastings of Florida or a compromise candidate, Silvestre Reyes of Texas.

“Jane was very aggressive about going on TV; she was on TV so much she could have gotten a SAG card,” said one top Democrat who knows both women. “Nancy resented that and felt Jane was leeching attention away from her leadership role. That had a lot to do with poisoning the relationship.”

Even Pelosi supporters pointed out that she was squandering her power, and hurting the image of the Democrats by making them look like Democrats. “The better way to do it is to just let your rival go ahead and win and then strip them of everything,” said one. “All of a sudden their office is moved and their wires are disconnected and there’s a Playskool phone on their desk, so that it’s not even worth having the job anymore.”

Even as the speaker was acting girlishly churlish, John McCain was mas machoing the machismo president. In twin speeches Thursday, he wooed the Republican base. “He’s trying to be the leader of a party that hates his guts,” said Rahm Emanuel, the new chairman of the House Democratic caucus.

Mr. McCain told a Gopac dinner audience that he wants more troops in Iraq than even W. is willing to send.

“It is not fair or easy to look a soldier in the eye and tell him he must shoulder a rifle again and risk his life in a third tour in Iraq,” he said. “But ask it we must. If, and I emphasize if, we have the will to win.”

Mr. McCain is right that the deteriorating situation on the ground calls for more boots and if troops start to withdraw, further chaos will ensue. But even many of the generals and hawks in his own party now believe that a lasting military victory is impossible, no matter how many troops America sends. The best that can be hoped for by the Republicans and Senator McCain — who will have trouble running as a cheerleader for more war in a nation sick of war and heartsick at so many deaths — is that James Baker can finagle a dignified exit.

Madame Speaker made the mistake of speaking out before she had counted her troops. The Arizona senator knows the body count in Iraq and is still calling for more troops.

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