Nov 29, 2006

You're either with her or against her

Nancy Pelosi:
It is in this cossetting of allies and banishment of opponents - both real and perceived - that one can see the imprint on Pelosi of her political mentor, the late Phil Burton, San Francisco's Congressman for more than two decades. (Only Burton's widow, Sala, stands between Pelosi and her mentor in the line of succession.) Burton, who was nearly elected majority leader in 1976 - he lost by one vote - separated friend from foe with ruthless determination. You were with him or you were with the enemy, so to speak. The virtue of this tactic was that it forced Members, who are tempermentally oriented toward free agency, to choose loyalty or oblivion. Those who chose loyalty were votes, and votes were power. The downside was that it also created enemies-for-life. The protégé's problem is that, in some important ways, she is not Burton. For one thing, she hasn't a record of achievements that can provide a basis for respect. Members need a reason to care about the choice they are being asked to make, and the best of these is evidence that you actually know the legislative game better than your rivals. Just as importantly, Pelosi hasn't the physically imposing presence and terrifying temper of her mentor. (Having dealt at one point with his impeccably vulgar brother, John, I think I have taste of what Burton's temper was like.) To make the "Burton" work, you have to make lawmakers feel that being on the wrong side is Hell, and not just because you didn't get the committee assignment you wanted. Reports of Pelosi summoning Members to her office and demanding they vote for John Murtha for majority leader make one cringe in embarrassment for her.

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