Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A Consolation of Losing the House

No one likes to lose under any circumstances.  When the party that controls the White House loses control of the House, that qualifies as a political calamity in anybody’s book. But it has its political compensations for the losers: it typically makes a creature of the House into the face of the winning party.

Take Newt Gingrich. He was an incendiary Republican bankbencher when House Republicans were led by pedestrian figures like Robert Michel and a brilliant political insurgent when Republicans were prying control of the House out of Democratic hands in 1994 after more than a generation in opposition. But the comeback of the Democratic Party during the 1990s had a lot to do with Gingrich’s having to go toe-to-toe with Bill Clinton on the national political stage and being unequipped to hold his own. Republicans would soon learn that a successful career in the House isn’t a very good audition for the leadership of a national party.

You can say substantially the same thing about Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. They became the face of the national Democratic Party between 2006 and 2008. Granted, they didn’t do enough harm in that capacity to keep Democrats from winning the White House in 2008 and Obama owes his legislative accomplishments to their institutional skills. But Democrats will certainly pay in 2010, and perhaps beyond, for Pelosi and Reid's national visibility.

So, after a seemingly endless series of political indignities, Democrats can take some small consolation in the fact that John Boehner, a man whose claim to national leadership consists principally in his suntan, is now speaking for the Republican Party about the state of the economy and the war in Iraq.

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