Thursday, November 16, 2006

A Prickly Caucus

Usually the selection of congressional leaders by members of each party arouses no attention beyond the Beltway. But today’s Democratic rebuke of Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi probably deserves all the media attention it got.

Basically, she got her ass kicked after needlessly twisting arms trying to get her baggy-craggy-faced-hack mentor John Murtha elected to the truly powerful position of Majority Leader. While there was no harm in her expressing a private preference and then letting members enshrine the current No. 2 man on the leadership ladder, Steny Hoyer, to his due, Pelosi put her political skills and brains on the line and lost.

Had she prevailed, she still would have lost, by having strong-armed a cartoon-looking crook into the job of reforming House ethics.

Hoyer is one of the least known members of Congress, but he has been there 25 years, and he has an astounding knack of coming back from the dead. He was the student government president in college (and that should disqualify anyone from holding any adult position), the youngest state Senate president in Maryland history, and then the victim of a popular revolt against his political machine that cost him the lieutenant governorship. He waited for a congresswoman to die, and then won the special election to replace her. That was 25 years ago.

He is the consummate insider, a slick political weathervane, a smiling backslapper and a legislative compromiser. He has won leadership positions before and lost twice, the last time four years ago when he was defeated by Pelosi, who, members say, was less popular but happened to have the right sexual organs for the politically correct Democratic caucus. He is the one who should have been holding a grudge, but it turns out it was she who acted the madwoman, probably because he wouldn’t kowtow.

Here is the interesting part. Pelosi and Hoyer have known each other for more than 40 years, since they were interns in the same congressional office. I wonder if their animosity is possibly about something else entirely.

For loser Jack Murtha, he would do well to remember the wisdom of the late Morris Udall, who went into one of these secret-ballot caucuses thinking he would be the new Democratic leader and coming out explaining: “The difference between a caucus and a cactus is that on a cactus the pricks are on the outside.”

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