Who else, I ask, but Nancy Pelosi?
The Rose of San Francisco will not go down in the speakership annals standing beside the honored likes of Henry Clay, Jack Garner and Sam Rayburn. Instead, she'll possibly go down as the speaker with both the hardest head and nose -- unyielding in pursuit of her objectives, giving an inch to critics only when forced to and then waiting patiently to snatch it back.
Save for being wrong about virtually everything but the time of day, she might tentatively merit the title of the American Thatcher. She snapped her fingers, thumbed her nose and got the job done. And won't it be nice if Boehner does the same thing. If he does, the republic may start to recover its lost political, economic and cultural capital. He might, in truth, want to keep her photo -- steely eyes and all -- taped to his shaving mirror.
Boehner's advantages are not wholly commensurate with those Pelosi enjoyed during the high noon of her speakership. He lacks the Democrats' full-nelson hold on their opponents by virtue of sheer numbers and White House control. The most titanium-nosed speaker in the world generally ends up needing the president's cooperation.
Presidential cooperation Pelosi had, in addition to an idea and a program. She wished to shovel through the congressional process -- as fast as possible and with minimal discussion -- her party's whole leftish agenda, from quasi-nationalized health care to gay rights in the military.
She didn't care much for objections or the "compromises" that good government types are presently extolling as necessary to the repair of American politics. She wanted the job done. Members who found particular votes difficult were invited to fall on their swords for the greater good of the Democratic Party. She suggested they look past the present tumult and shouting and towards the blessings that grateful Americans would one day heap on those who voted, for instance, to let the government mostly run health care.
Even those of us who acknowledge government health care to be the worst political notion of the past half century can appreciate the speaker's sense that political payoffs need not be immediate, that the short run doesn't trump the long view. She erred in thinking, if she did think about it, that the financial plan for Obamacare could ever work out. At least her eye wasn't cocked solely toward the upcoming election.