Her opponent grabbed his 15 minutes of fame by depicting Nancy Pelosi as the Wicked Witch of the West in a campaign spot -- a sophomoric attempt at humor that accomplished nothing except to generate sympathy for its target.
Not that Pelosi deserves kid gloves -- far from it. She, more even than President Obama, is the spirit of the age in which we live. It is her legislation, her attitudes, and her legacy on which we will vote a month from now. Her effect on the nation has been enormous. And while it's doubtful that even Moses could defeat her in California's 8th district (maybe especially not Moses), her record deserves the right kind of scorn, not a cartoon.
Speaker Pelosi, more than anyone else, is responsible for the $800 billion stimulus bill. Placed in charge of boosting the economy by the new president, Pelosi essentially dumped the contents of her "in" box into legislation. Pretty much everything that any Democratic member of Congress, big city mayor, or liberal governor had ever asked for was enacted. It was urgent after all. Pelosi explained that, "Every month that we do not have an economic recovery package, 500 million Americans lose their jobs. I don't think we can go fast enough to stop that."
And so we wound up with, among so many other projects, $15 billion for Pell grant scholarships (which make college more expensive), $1 billion for "community development block grants" (pork for cities), $145 billion for "making work pay" tax credits and $83 billion for the earned income tax credit (income transfers), $89 billion for Medicaid (more income transfers), $36 billion for unemployment benefits (ditto), $20 billion for food stamps (ditto), $30 billion for COBRA insurance extension (ditto), $79 billion for the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund (rewarding states that overspent at the expense of more frugal ones), $4.2 billion for "neighborhood stabilization activities" (we can only guess), and assorted special interest goodies like $400 million for global warming research, $150 million for "producers of livestock, honeybees, and farm-raised fish," $335 million for the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases, and $55 million for the Historic Preservation Fund.
Shockingly enough, the bill failed to keep unemployment below 8 percent as promised. But when, in July 2010, she agitated for even more unemployment spending, she explained it this way: Unemployment checks "create jobs faster than almost any other initiative you can name ... it injects demand into the economy." She seems actually to believe this. It's one thing to argue that in the name of compassion you must extend unemployment benefits, but to suggest that by taking from one pocket (the taxpayer's) and giving to another, you are helping the net economy, well, it defies logic.
Under her leadership, the House passed a devastatingly wasteful, bureaucratic nightmare of a health care reform (later scrapped in favor of the Senate version). The final legislation aggravates every problem with our existing health care system (excessive bureaucracy, third-party payer incentives, costly insurance mandates, lack of competition) and adds new burdens and mandates of dubious legality. In her defense, the speaker probably hasn't read it. After all, she argued that the Congress would "have to pass the bill (to) find out what's in it."
The woman who explained that she invested in natural gas because "I believe in natural gas as a clean, cheap alternative to fossil fuels," also shepherded passage of cap-and-trade energy legislation that would, according to a Heritage Foundation analysis, cost every American family of four $6,800 annually by 2035.
Pelosi has done more than quick-march the nation toward bankruptcy, though. She has also contributed to the atmosphere of hostility and menace toward business that has kept capital spooked and arguably delayed the economic recovery. Businessmen are her favorite pinatas. During the health care debate, she characterized health insurance companies as the "villains" who've "had a good thing going for a long time at the expense of the American people and the health of our country." They were "immoral" she added.
And last week, offering her beleaguered colleagues advice on how to win re-election as they limp out of Washington without having passed a budget or preserved the Bush tax cuts for anyone, she suggested her default tactic: "Now our challenge is to tattoo the practices of big insurance, big oil, big banks and the rest" onto Republicans. "And our members feel very good about doing that."
What an epitaph.