The L.A. Times took upon itself a difficult task. The chore: to make it seem like Obama is in control of Congress at the same time that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is still a powerhouse there. The truth of the matter is that Barack Obama has revealed little influence over the Democrat majority in the House of Representatives but the Times wants to make it seem as if Obama is firmly in charge to puff his reputation. To do that, it would have to prove that Pelosi is taking a back-seat to the president. Yet, the Times also wants to show support for Pelosi. The resulting article is filled with one contradiction after another as it ends up attempting to say that both of them are in charge of the House. Quite a few journalistic back flips were made in the effort, too.
The L.A. Times headlined its piece, "Pelosi's role diminishes under Obama." This headline might tend to tell the reader that Nancy Pelosi has stepped back from her iron-fisted control of the House to allow Obama to push his agenda. Yet, even as the first six paragraphs of the piece starts that way, most of the article tends to dispute both the headline and the concept that Pelosi has relinquished any control at all to the White House. In fact, it says just the opposite, that she is just as firmly in control as ever, ceding nothing to Obama.
In essence the Times tries to have it both ways, but a thoughtful review of the whole rather tends to say that Obama has had little control or influence, that Obama's so-called "post-partisan" Washington has died still born in Nancy Pelosi's House of Reps, and that the president has made little headway working with Congressional Democrats. Instead of a great relationship, a closer read of the thing reveals the rocky road between them instead. It is hilarious, though, watching the Olympics level gymnastics the Times engages in to try and make both Obama and Pelosi seem the hero here.
To set the table of Pelosi bowing to The One, the Times tells us that Pelosi is finding it "crowded at the top" with Obama taking office. The Times assures us that Pelosi is "discovering what it means to be back in a lesser role, with someone else setting the party's agenda and establishing its priorities." We seem to be learning that Pelosi is dutifully paying reverence to Obama's every idea.
Yet, after saying for six paragraphs that Pelosi is taking that "lesser role," the Times goes on to list all the ways she has refused to accept Obama's lead. The Times says that Pelosi is still taking a hard line against the Republican minority despite Obama's claim at wanting "bi-partisanship" and reveals that she and her caucus wrote the stimulus bill having purposefully excluded the Republicans.
That sort of blunt talk may reflect the reality in the House, where Pelosi has the power -- and the inclination, when she sees fit -- to run roughshod over the minority.
So, how is Pelosi taking any "lesser role" so that Obama can take the lead? Your guess is as good as mine because the piece never really proves that position. Instead of proving it is true, the Times goes off on airy pronouncements of Obama's "instinct for finding the middle" by quoting another one of those ubiquitous "experts" that the Media always rolls out in these puff pieces.
"Obama has shown an instinct for finding the middle, both to avoid being pulled too far to the left and to win enough Republican votes to pass anything in the Senate," said Don Kettl, a University of Pennsylvania political scientist and longtime Congress watcher.
No, what Obama does is claim he's in the middle without offering any "middle" policy ideas. Still, is is supposed we are being shown Pelosi and Obama's teamwork here. But, even as the piece rolls on we are treated to no examples of any actual teamwork. Only claims of the same.
The Times notes that Pelosi is not really laying down for Obama at all.
As such, the speaker is determined to protect congressional prerogatives and prevent Democrats from taking politically risky votes that could endanger their seats and weaken the party majority -- even if that means undermining Obama and sometimes thwarting his goals.
Then the tone of the article switches from one showing the "lesser role" that Pelosi IS taking, to one of speculation of the role Pelosi "could" take in the struggle for power between the president and the speaker. Basically, we find the piece ceding the point that Pelosi isn't really working with Obama after all.
That could leave Pelosi caught between the president, her longtime liberal allies and Democrats more to the right, though Miller, for one, said trying to balance those interests was not such a bad problem.
Wait a minute. This piece started off trying to spin us that Pelosi and Obama are working well together with Obama in the lead, then starts revealing that Pelosi hasn't relented any control at all, then starts talking about what might happen between Obama and Pelosi later? This article doesn't know what it wants to be about!
Next, we move on to the earnest proclamations of how well Pelosi and Obama like each other by Democrat insiders and administration hacks, but no actual proof that the two have achieved any actual progress as a team on anything.
And Finally, it seems as if the Times is realizing the pickle they are in. We find at the end of this mish-mash the Times offering a little friendly advice to remind the president and speaker that they should work together to avoid the problems that plagued Bill Clinton's relationship with his Democratic House leaders.
There is a strong incentive for Pelosi and Obama (and Reid) to make their relationship work: memories of 1993 and 1994, the last time Democrats controlled both Congress and the White House.
So this piece goes off in many directions at once without successfully defending any of those positions. The piece morphs as follows:
- Starts out claiming Pelosi is taking a "lesser role" in deference to The One
- Goes on to showing that Pelosi is not taking Obama's lead on anything
- To Pelosi rejecting Obama's "bi-partisan" ideas
- To "experts" saying that Pelosi's hardline could hurt Obama's agenda
- To insiders saying they really, really like each other
- To the Times' subtle warning that if the don't work together they could have a dysfunctional relationship like Clinton did with his Congress
If one were to read just the first six paragraphs, one would think Pelosi is giving Obama the lead. If one were to read only the next seven paragraphs one sees a Pelosi that has relinquished no power to the White House at all. The next thirteen paragraphs tell the tale of how Pelosi's "hard-charging" ways could hurt Obama's agenda. The next five tell of how much Pelosi and Obama like and respect each other. And the last three warn the pair that they'd better get their act together or trouble will result. And the whole mess puts the lie to the headline.
Talk about a mess! And that mess turns out to be Obama and Pelosi's relationship, the very relationship the L.A. Times tries so hard to spin as a positive one... and fails so miserably at doing.
(Photo credit Associated Press/WSJ.com)