I think Nancy Pelosi came out with the right line last night on her tenure as Speaker of the House of Representatives: “No regrets.”
Of course it would be a bit silly to have literally zero regrets whatsoever. But the point is the refusal to apologize for staking out a bold, progressive course of action and she was correct to do so. Something’s that often goes missing in Washington is the fact that homeless shelters are hardly full of former congressmen. If pushing the envelop on a few issues led to 65 losses instead of 50 losses, then those fifteen guys are going to be fine at the end of the day. If pushing the envelop on a few issues led to several million extra people getting health insurance, that’s a different issue.
Beyond the Affordable Care Act, the Pelosi Congress has a number of other significant achievements. That includes the underrated TARP, an important public lands program, a substantial increase in Pell Grants so poor kids can go to college, the Lilly Ledbetter Act that prevented gender discrimination law from becoming a dead letter, hate crimes legislation, an increase in automobile fuel efficiency standards, etc.
I think what will create the most controversy in retrospect is that Pelosi is a climate hawk and insisted on moving forward with the Waxman-Markey American Clean Energy and Security Act that ended up dying in the Senate. That’s a bet that obviously didn’t work out in the end. But realistically, it’s the most important issue of our time and the fact that she was determined to take the best shot she could at getting something done reflects well on her. In fact, out of all the members of congress I’ve had the opportunity to speak with in Washington Pelosi has always struck me as the one who’s best at keeping things in perspective. You don’t get to be Speaker without being a shrewd political thinker, but a big part of her shrewdness was not overdoing the political thinking. She always kept her values front and center and made the political thinking subordinate to her substantive mission in politics. The politics, in other words, was a means to an end and the ends she served were important. We need more people like that in DC, not fewer.