On Nancy Pelosi and Michael Foot

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With House Democrats preparing to re-elect Nancy Pelosi as their leader--on the face of it, an act of electoral self-wounding that calls for psychiatric intervention--the question arises, what are they thinking? Jonathan Allen and John Harris set out five reasons in Politico: standing up to Obama (he'll tack to the middle, and the House will have to push back); loyalty; fear; "she's got game"; pride; and there's nobody else. (I know that's six reasons: take it up with them.)

These reasons all makes sense, but I think give too little weight to the fact that most House Democrats simply think Pelosi is right on the issues. You could argue this factor is folded into "standing up to [a more triangulating] Obama", and maybe into "pride" as well; but I'd say it deserves explicit recognition. When you're right, you're right. There's something admirable about voting for a leader who's ideas are (in your view) just correct.

The problem is, too many voters disagree that her ideas are correct--or at least, this would be the straightforward interpretation of the mid-terms. Many Democrats challenge that interpretation, of course. The psychiatrically interesting dimension of support in the House for Pelosi is not "she's right, so I'm supporting her" (which make sense) but "she's right, and most voters agree with her, which would have been obvious at the polls if only the White House hadn't kept caving in to the GOP" (which calls into question the sanity of the people saying it). I hear many Democrats arguing this, and I am curious to know how many of them actually believe it.

Quite possibly, all of them. It reminds me very much of the British Labour party in the 1980s. Pre-Blair, a steady though diminishing majority of party stalwarts said that the Tories kept winning elections because Labour wasn't socialist enough. The height of this folly (as it was subsequently shown to be) was the vote in 1980 to make Michael Foot rather than Denis Healey party leader after Jim Callaghan. Foot's election split the party, which went down to a landslide defeat in 1983, having campaigned on a hard-left election manifesto deemed (by a Labour moderate) "the longest suicide note in history." Undaunted, true believers in the party put this and subsequent defeats down to a failure to be socialist enough. I think they believed it.

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Clive Crook is a senior editor of The Atlantic and a columnist for Bloomberg View. He was the Washington columnist for the Financial Times, and before that worked at The Economist for more than 20 years, including 11 years as deputy editor. Crook writes about the intersection of politics and economics. More

Crook writes about the intersection of politics and economics.

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