Giving a pass to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for her failure to cajole enough Democrats to vote for the bailout agreement, Newsweek's Daniel Gross blamed the minority Republican conference, accepting without skepticism the argument that a partisan speech by the San Francisco Democrat caused some Republicans to vote "nay" out of spite alone:
Was the bailout bill killed by malice or by incompetence? It's hard to argue against incompetence, since it has been so rampant, especially on the Republican side of things in Washington. The congressional leadership and the White House clearly lacked the heft-or the energy-to whip recalcitrant members into line.
Sure, the bill could have passed if more Democrats had voted for it. But Speaker Nancy Pelosi and co. were able to bring along 60 percent of their caucus. Why did so many House Republicans bail? Some say it's because Pelosi hurt their feelings by pointing out that Republicans were in charge when things went to hell. It also could be that a lot of them got religious on fiscal matters. (Of course, having approved an expansion of Medicare, massive increases in all sorts of spending, and huge tax cuts that led to the addition of trillions of dollars in public debt, this is a strange moment to stand on principle.)
Obviously, Republicans were motivated in no small part by political calculations-short- and long-term. But it's really hard to figure out what those calculations might be.
In the meantime, the chaos they've created by coming to the table and then throwing a fit works to their disadvantage.
So Gross accused Republicans of pettiness and incompetence, but failed to point blame at the majority Democrats or ask the natural questions that might arise from accepting the notion that Republicans voted no to spite Pelosi.
Given that Pelosi's speech was chock full of partisan red meat, which it was, why did it fail to corral more than 60 percent of her caucus? If the bailout package is the most important legislative issue of the congressional session, shouldn't Pelosi have been able to command a higher percentage of her caucus behind the agreement?
Doesn't a failure to whip her caucus in line show a failure of Pelosi's leadership? If she knew her caucus was only 60 percent behind her -- and she darn well should have given her experience as a former party whip -- why did she purposely choose inflammatory language in her speech arguing for passage of the bill and then move forward with the vote even as she knew she wouldn't have enough votes behind her?
These are all questions a fair and balanced journalist would have considered. But fairness and balance have a pesky habit of running counter to the mission of electing Barack Obama and re-electing a liberal Democratic Congress.