With Friends Like Rangel, Pelosi Needs No Enemies

Democrat powerhouse Rep. Charles Rangel (D.-N.Y.) has already handed the GOP the first of what could be a cornucopia of ill-conceived proposals through which the Democrats will try to retake the White House in 2008.

Rangel likes the sound of his own voice. The soon-to-be chairman of the powerful Ways and Means committee sounded off recently about his planned legislation to resurrect the military draft. You don’t have to be a pollster to know how monumentally unpopular this would be.

Such a bill would never even receive a committee vote, much less reach the floor of the House for a vote. Why? Because new House Speaker Nancy Pelosi won’t allow such a politically destructive concept to take wings. Yes, that Pelosi. Liberal — San Francisco liberal — Pelosi.

In 1998, as a close associate of then-Speaker Newt Gingrich, I had virtually unlimited access to all members of Congress. In researching my book of that year, “Powerchicks: How Women Will Dominate America,” I had observed Pelosi closely.

While I disagreed with much of her politics, I nevertheless believed that she and she alone seemed likely to lead the Democrats if they ever took majority control again. So I wrote as much, following a very personable interview with her.

I recently went back and dusted off the book. I’d written, “The concept of ‘Madame Speaker’ or ‘the distinguished lady from California, the minority leader,’ is no longer far-fetched.”

I cite this passage not to nominate myself as a psychic seer, but to caution conservatives not to interpret Pelosi’s ascension as only blind luck falling her way. They perhaps should look elsewhere for easy targets to attack. The growing belief that Pelosi will be the poster-woman for Democratic failure may be wrong.

In my conversations with her nearly a decade ago, I learned that she is a political pragmatist, even as she is acutely aware that she represents a decidedly liberal congressional district. She will search for common ground — with public opinion, if not with the GOP.

And she’s tough. Her fund-raising prowess is legendary. She’s willing to take risks. She’s also willing to stand up to “the boys,” and she takes pride in that independent streak. She’s also a nice person. Interestingly, she made no secret that she aspired to her party’s top post in Congress.

Already Speaker Pelosi has been questioned for backing a man for majority leader who was subsequently voted down by the Democrats. But she was smart to snuff out on the vine any notions by some liberal members of her caucus to immediately plan investigations of President Bush with the end goal of impeaching him.

So don’t be surprised if it isn’t Pelosi among the Democrats who makes the strategically idiotic statement or pushes the politically suicidal proposal that will put the electoral chances of Democrats in significant danger by 2008.

That dubious honor instead will likely fall to a ragtag collection of liberal, loudmouthed chairpersons in line to take power. They’ll probably become the bane of Speaker Pelosi’s existence.

The chairs of committees have, ex officio, platforms on which to stick their feet into their mouths. When those members of Congress are with the minority party, their popping off can be dismissed with a shrug. But once they assume the mantle of power, the words of these same people become instant, loud news.

Exhibit A: Charles Rangel’s take on federal appropriations for the state of Mississippi. He couldn’t resist expressing his New York elitist disdain for the people of that southern state by rhetorically asking who in their right mind would want to live there. For Pelosi, those gratuitous remarks were probably just an hors d’oeuvre before the entrees of misstatements to come.

If Rangel were a lone loose cannon, Speaker Pelosi could monitor him and sleep well at night. But Rangel is not unique. Over the next year, there will be plenty of others among the old-guard Democrats who will have voters scratching their heads. That will force newly elected Democrats in more conservative districts to distance themselves from their “senior colleagues.”

Truthfully, I didn’t like Nancy Pelosi’s politics when I interviewed her and don’t particularly like them now. Even so, I enjoyed getting to know her. Having witnessed one speaker, Gingrich, take the reins of power from the opposing party, I know that Pelosi is going to be one busy woman. Unfortunately for her, much of her valuable time will be wasted in having to ride herd over her crazy crew of leaders as they set about unintentionally but effectively moving to throw away the political might they have just gained after so much time in the political dungeon.

Just think: If Charlie Rangel has his way, your child’s draft number might be coming up sometime in the near future. That idea alone could be manna from heaven for the beleaguered Republican Party.