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The Woman Who Would Be Speaker

By Debra Saunders

SAN FRANCISCO -- It is a sign of how out-of-touch San Francisco is from the rest of the country when most voters here consider House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi a moderate. No, make that: too moderate.

Pelosi's positions are those of a classic liberal. She voted against the welfare-reform bill signed by President Bill Clinton and supports same-sex marriage. She wants choice for children who don't want to notify their parents to have an abortion, but not for poor District of Columbia parents who need vouchers to send their children to private school. Pelosi voted against the war in Iraq and the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

Her 2005 liberal rating by Americans for Democratic Action was 95 percent.

She is happy to dismiss President Bush as an idiot -- or, as she said in 2004, Bush "has no judgment, no experience or knowledge of the subjects that he has decided upon." From the other side of her mouth, she promises to restore "civility" to the House if she becomes its first female speaker.

That's what passes for moderate in The Special City. Locals are proud of their country's leftmost leanings -- until Fox News' Bill O'Reilly lampoons "San Francisco values." Then they move into high dudgeon that anyone would brand Ess Eff politics as out of the mainstream.

What sets Pelosi apart from, say, most S.F. supervisors is that she is also pragmatic -- and she understands what will and will not play in Peoria.

Pelosi announced in May that if the Dems win the House, impeaching Bush will not be on the table. While she opposed the war in Iraq, she will not de-fund the war -- which has earned Pelosi occasional protests when she visits her district. At a "Day of Remembrance" event for Sept. 11 victims shortly after the attacks, when a supervisor blamed America for provoking the terrorist attacks, Pelosi had the good sense to rebuke him by noting, "The act of terrorism on Sept. 11 put those people outside the order of civilized behavior, and we will not take responsibility for that." In other words, Pelosi doesn't rant like a fringe activist -- and that makes her a moderate in San Francisco.

Republicans believe it is scary that, as speaker, Pelosi would be third in the line for the presidency. Considering her politics, I don't like that possibility, either. Then again, it's not as if it has been comforting to have the likes of Speaker Denny Hastert, or Newt Gingrich before him, third in line, either.

Would a Speaker Pelosi turn the House into a far-left haven? Cal political scientist Bruce Cain thinks not. As Cain sees it, new committee chairs under Pelosi know what it's like to be in power and know "how much misery there is in being in the minority," and they're going to think twice before they do anything -- read impeachment -- "that undermines their chance to hold onto the majority in 2008." Cain likens Pelosi to other S.F. political icons -- former Mayor Willie Brown and the late U.S. Rep. Phil Burton -- who knew how to build coalitions.

I accept Cain's comments -- if they mean Pelosi would be cautious for her first two years as speaker, but every year thereafter, the welfare-loving, tax-happy Pelosi would grow more dominant.

Also, as speaker, Pelosi might be pushed further to the left of her rhetoric today. U.S. Rep. John Conyers, the Democratic heir to chair of the Judiciary Committee, supports investigations that could end in impeachment hearings. Cain believes Pelosi will keep Conyers from going too far. If the Dems do move for impeachment, Cain predicts, "they won't be ahead of public opinion" on it.

The Washington Post's Ruth Marcus wrote Wednesday that Pelosi may not name Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif. -- the ranking Democrat on the committee -- chairperson of the House Intelligence Committee because Harmon is "in Pelosi's estimation, insufficiently partisan." That Harman is not sufficiently partisan must come as a big surprise to the Bushies, whom she has described as "lawless" and "out of control." Next in line, Marcus notes, is U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, who was stripped of his position as a federal judge and impeached by the House because of a bribery scandal. The Congressional Black Caucus will not look kindly on Pelosi if she passes over Hastings, who is black, in favor of U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, a Latino, of Texas.

If a Speaker Pelosi insists on playing enforcer and rejects Harman for a more liberal Democrat, she quickly will prove to all Washington that she has no desire to work constructively to get things done. That makes her, sooner or later, Tom DeLay in a liberal skirt.

Copyright 2006 Creators Syndicate

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