The politics of the bill

There is no glory to go around here.  Assume, arguendo, that most people in the House believed both that the bill would be passed, and that anyone who voted for it would suffer politically, except maybe in New York.

Pelosi screwed up royally.  She is the Democratic Tom DeLay.  Newt Gingrich was an ideologue, but Tom DeLay was simply a partisan, most keenly interested in maximizing his party's political power.  Pelosi cut a deal in which, as far as I can tell, every single Republican in a safe seat had to vote yes so that the Democrats could maximize their no votes.  Given that the Republican caucus is pretty much in open revolt, this was beyond moronic.  She then spent a week openly and repeatedly blaming the Republicans and the Bush administration for the current crisis.  The way she set things up, it was "Heads I win, tails you lose":  vote for the deal and I'll paint you as heartless reactionaries bailing out your fat cat friends.  If you're going to do that, you'd better make sure you have some goddamn margin for error in your own party.  She didn't.  Then she got up and delivered yet another speech blaming the Republicans for the bailout deal she was about to pass.

Being in power means that you get to give your party special favors on many occasions--but it also means that you, yes you, have the ultimate responsibility for getting things done.  She didn't particularly try to bring her party in line, and so of course as soon as a few Republicans defected, hers stampeded.  The ultimate blame for this failure has to be laid at her feet.

That doesn't excuse the Republicans; I've already expressed my opinion of their conduct.  If they do not understand that there are some things more important than reelection, they do not deserve to be in Congress.  I'm not sure they deserve to be let loose in society.  But Pelosi is the one who was vested with the ultimate responsibility for shaping the legislative process in the House.  She not only dropped the ball; she picked it up and drop kicked it through her own goal.

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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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