Democrats are trying to frame the midterm elections as a referendum on an unpopular war and an unpopular president. Republicans say this election is really a choice between a mainstream GOP and congressional Democrats who are well to the left of the American electorate.
Do the Republicans have a case? Based on the abundantly documented public record, they do. This is especially true on the House side where political gerrymandering has favored election of the most liberal Democrats. Nancy Pelosi’s party should be having a very tough time, indeed, selling itself as a mainstream alternative to congressional Republicans.
Start with Pelosi herself, the San Francisco Democrat and current House minority leader who would almost certainly become speaker of the House if the Democrats take control Nov. 7. As speaker, Pelosi would be second in the line of presidential succession after Vice President Cheney. Moreover, as speaker she would control all legislation in the House and be by far the most powerful member of the United States Congress.
Polls show that most Americans know nothing about Pelosi and many don’t even know who she is. With the election barely a week away, it’s time they learned.
Pelosi is fond of deflecting the "San Francisco Democrat" charge by noting that as a mother and grandmother, she’s hardly the left-wing icon figure her critics allege. But there is no denying her voting record over eight terms as one of the most liberal members of the House of Representatives. Pelosi’s lifetime rating by the Americans for Democratic Action, the liberal benchmark for members of Congress, is 96 percent. Her lifetime rating by the counterpart American Conservative Union is 2 percent.
Equally relevant are Pelosi’s views and voting record on issues directly related to national security and the war against terrorism. Less than a year after 9/11, Pelosi said publicly that she didn’t consider the United States at war. This year, she said that national security should not be a campaign issue in the 2006 midterm elections.
Pelosi voted repeatedly against the counterterrorism Patriot Act, opposed creation of the Department of Homeland Security and voted against a resolution condemning the leak of the National Security Agency’s highly classified program for monitoring terrorist communications. Pelosi also reportedly told colleagues that she would appoint as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee overseeing America’s counterterrorism efforts Rep. Alcee Hastings, an ultra-liberal and at least formerly sleazy Florida Democrat. Hastings was impeached and removed as a federal judge by a Democratic-controlled Congress in 1988-89 on bribery and obstruction of justice charges.
A Pelosi-run Democratic-controlled House would also make New York Democrat Rep. Charles Rangel chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee. Rangel says he would oppose extending any of the Bush tax cuts past their expiration in 2010 — imposing a huge tax increase on an economy fueled by Bush’s first-term tax reductions.
Control of the House Judiciary Committee in a Democratic House would go to Michigan Rep. John Conyers, another zealous liberal. Conyers has spent the last few years compiling a case for impeaching President Bush. Pelosi denies that a Democratic House would pursue Bush’s impeachment but Conyers pointedly demurred from echoing Pelosi’s denial.
Chairmanship of the investigative House Government Reform Committee would go to California Rep. Henry Waxman, among the most partisan liberal Democrats in the House. No one doubts that Waxman would use his committee and its subpoena power to launch a flurry of investigations of the Bush administration, including its counterterrorism intelligence programs.
Beyond putting these luminaries of the Democratic left in charge of the House, one wonders if properly informed voters would want to risk America’s security by elevating the House Democratic caucus itself to the majority.
House Democrats have voted, often by overwhelming margins, against nearly all the pillars of the Bush administration’s counterterrorism policy and programs. A majority of House Democrats voted repeatedly against the Patriot Act, against authorizing military tribunals for captured terrorists, against modernizing electronic surveillance legislation to permit monitoring of terrorists by the National Security Agency and against creation of the Department of Homeland Security.
Twice in the 1990s and twice more since the terrorist attacks in 2001, half or more of House Democrats voted to cut finding for U.S. intelligence agencies. This year, 93 House Democrats voted against the 2007 Defense Authorization bill, which included appropriations for the major U.S. intelligence agencies.
On securing the U.S.-Mexico border — arguably a tangential national security issue — Democrats have an equally weak record. More than half the House Democratic caucus voted against legislation authorizing construction of 700 miles of fencing along the southern border. More than half of all House Democrats also voted against legislation last month to increase immigration law enforcement.
Republicans are in trouble this year because majorities of Americans have soured on a frustrating war in Iraq and on President Bush, and because Congress’ GOP majorities have performed poorly or at least unevenly.
Nonetheless, the Republicans’ critique of the Democratic Congress in prospect has a powerful array of facts on its side. Most of Nancy Pelosi’s Democrats are too liberal for the country. Worse yet, they would be decidedly weak in protecting national security in a time of war. That ought to be a determining factor for voters about to make some fateful choices.