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Girl Governance: What's the problem?

I don't get the media hysteria over Rep. Nancy Pelosi supporting Rep. John Murtha for Democratic House leader as she promised she would if the Dems won back the House. Rep. Steny Hoyer won instead and she congratualted him. Hoyer sensibly responded,"let's move on." Why the hysteria and dark predictions that she's compromised her authority. What am I missing here?

In the meantime, racist-talking Senator Trent Lott booted from his post last term for praising the 1948 segregationist campaign of Strom Thurmond gets elected as Republican whip. The same media could barely bring themselves to yawn. What am I missing here?

About the Author

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages and blogs at dotCommonweal.



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I am no fan of Senator Lott or, as far as I know, of any other former cheerleader now holding national office. However (here it comes), he has shown a certain charm when on the Daily Show; I think that "his mouth ran away with him" was as good an explanation as racism for his remarks at the Thurmond birthday bash; and, faint praise, indeed, I disliked his successor more. I agree that the reaction to the Hoyer/Murtha race is both hysterical and media (CNN) produced.

O.K. Thesis 1: Lott served his prison sentence and has been paroled by Jon Stewart.

One more thing (why did I ever agree to take this case?): he did fall on his sword (or is that creative memory - memory historicized?) which is more than can be said for a slew of other scoundrels.

Perhaps it is because, despite having said something very stupid at an old man's birthday, there is no evidence that Sen Lott is a racist. In fact, going back into the 70's, when he was in the House, he had many African American staff members - long before many of the progressives who called for his scalp.John Murtha, on the other hand, was an unindicted co-conspirator in the ABSCAM sting. When offered a cash-on-the-table bribe, did he refuse it and go to the authorities? No, he said, I don't know you well enough. Let's meet again and maybe we can do business together. The investigation into Rep Murtha was shut down by the Democtartic leadership before he got more familiar. You can see the video on YouTube. Not very consistent from Rep. "No Culture of Corruption" Pelosi.

The fact that Lott had blacks on his staff proves nothing. Slaveowners had blacks as slaves -- are we to congratulate them for providing employment? And he clearly didn't "fall on his sword" -- there he is now, as Republican whip. Besides, Lott's speech at Thurmond's birthday celebration wasn't the first time he'd praised the old cracker. Consider what Lott actually said: "If we'd elected him, we wouldn't have had all the problems we have now." That's not just "insensitive," to use the insipid word of criticism often bandied about. It's a pretty straighforward assertion that it's all been downhill since the Brown decision, the civil rights movement, etc. It's also no secret that Lott has long been a member of the Conservative Citizens' Council -- a direct historical descendant of the White Citizens' Councils. Many of the state charters of CCC member organizations openly call for the re-imposition of segregation, and some even feature rhetoric about God's assignment of "different destinies" for the races. What you might be "missing," Margaret, is that the mainstream press is still pretty much as gutless and clueless as it was when it was parroting war-talk three years ago. The main function of the Beltway press is still, not to inform us, but to provide a sense of comfort for the public. Our Great Leaders, in this view, are still worthy public servants, looking out for our welfare, despite their occasional gaffes and 'insensitivities."

Eugene,His hiring black staff members - including being the first Senator from the deep south to have black staff members - is just like running a plantation? I see, a liberal hires a black person, and it is wonderfully courageous, but a conservative is just like a slave owner. Thanks for clearing that up.As for the CCC, he gave one speech to them when they first started up - so did Richard Gephardt. If we are doing guilt by association - why not look into Robert "KKK Grand Wizard" Byrd? How about Bill "My Hero is The Great Segregationist William Fullbright" Clinton?

I'm going to register a modest dissent here. There are two reasons why Pelosi is more of a story.The first is that she is the incoming Speaker of the House. Obviously, there is interest in how the decisions she is making these days will affect the direction of the House. If the Republicans still had control of the Senate, I expect that Lott's selection would be a bigger story.Secondly, Pelosi stated on election night--in one of those flourishes politicians usually come to regret--that the Democrats were going to run the most ethical Congress in history. Given Murtha's history, her backing of him for Majority Leader showed bad judgment. Her backing of Rep. Hastings for House Intelligence shows similarly poor judgment, for the same reason.The corruption in Congress was a serious issue with many voters. Despite her rhetoric, Pelosi's actions create a perception that she is tone deaf to this concern.

Sean:Well, I guess it depends on the guy running the office. My point is that "look at the number of blacks on my staff" isn't prima facie evidence that a person isn't racist. White slaveowners often wrote very nice, even tender things about their slaves in their family Bibles-- but they still sold them, whipped them, and fought like hell to retain ownership. The quality of personal relationships isn't a sufficient index to the depth or consequence of racism. (Wendell Berry writes about this in The Hidden Wound.) To switch the category, it's perfectly possible for a man to love and dote on his wife and daughters, and still be utterly sexist in his attitudes about women. When men "put women on a pedestal," it's often because they don't want them anywhere else. I take your point about liberals and conservatives. A friend of mine used to work for a prominent liberal Democrat whose public pronouncements on race were impeccably egalitarian, but whose private remarks were atrocious. Robert Byrd apologized for his KKK membership 40 years ago, and has had an exemplary civil rights record ever since. I agree with you about the Great Triangulator's endorsement of Fulbright. Fulbright's criticism of the Vietnam War has indeed obscured his support for segregation.

People can change, and I hope Lott has on the issue of race. Though he was fighting at the time an ultimately unsuccessful effort to save his position as majority leader, it still took some guts for him to appear on Black Entertainment Television and denounce segregation and racism.I'm more concerned at the present about his support for the lifting of the ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.It could be interesting having Lott back in a Republican leadership position. I think he blames the Bush White House, especially Karl Rove, for his forced resignation after the Strom Thurmond fiasco. He's bucked the Bush Administration several times since his banishment, most recently in his call for Rumsfeld's resignation. Maybe there's a bit of payback time on the horizon.

The utter predictability of the comments offered here is both sad and amusing. No neurons being fired here. Mr. Collier, embryonic stem cell research is against Catholic teaching. So why are you for it?

If one favors strongly ideological and responsible parties the outcomes of both contests arguably represent setbacks. The forces making for decentralization and a less unified message among elected officials are quite powerful (and each reform seems to encourage such trends). But when the stakes involve minimum wage legislation and grandstanding investigations, as the 2007 agenda appears to promise, the leadership contests are almost irrelevant. In a longer view the house leadership, for good or ill, has been waning for some time. Members of Congress have long since rejected czars like Uncle Joe Cannon or even a Tip ONeill. The current polarization in the nation and in Congress is also likely to make party leadership even weaker and the effect of outside groups more powerful.

Janice--I'm strongly opposed to embryonic stem cell research, and I think my post conveys that sentiment. It's Trent Lott who supports embryonic stem cell research. He opposes the prohibition that is presently in place on using federal money for such research. If the ban is lifted, federal research dollars will flow into labs now conducting embryonic stem cell research with private money only. Lott and I think 18 other Republican senators (and scores of Democrats), including Frist and Hatch, believe that the federal money should begin flowing. As I've said before in posts, I find an anti-abortion, pro-embryonic stem cell research stance more logically and philosophically inconsistent than a pro-choice stance on both issues.

Dear Janice,Try reading Mr. Collier's post again. He seem to be concerned about Lott's "support for the lifting of the ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research." To me that that suggests that Mr. Collier is not in favor of the research.

Eugene,I disagree that hiring a black person into a position of responsibility, particularly when there is no pressure to do so, as in Lott's case in the 70's, is at least some evidence that he doesn't harbor racist beliefs. Certainly two decades of this behavior is more probative than a comment at a party. Moreover, when the Strom Thurmond speech came out I read or saw many interviews with many people, both black and white (including some of these same staffers), who knew and worked with Lott and vouched for his character, but once the long knives came out . . . who cared about reality.

Why does no one want to rtalk about Murtha? It was clear that a majority wanted Hoyer, who had been Pelosi's rival for the leadership in 2001. But Murtha had been a leading supporter of her candidacy for the leadership then in the contest with Hoyer. It looked as though Pelosi was endorsing Murtha by way of returning a favor. Too much like business as usual? Speaking of business as usual, Murtha seems to be all too much a business as usual guy, if what they say is true. Not ideal for a brave new start in the more ethical direction. This is not to canonize Hoyer. But Murtha's stand against blundering Bush should be seen in the context of his whole career.

The media are frequently so convinced of the accuracy of their own expectations that they don't observe events closely enough to offer a fresh or even accurate interpretation (a little bit like Janice in this thread). In this case the expectation is that Dems are beset by infighting while Repubs are always unified. Evidence that the picture is more complicated is rarely picked up on, much less actually discussed.

Generally, any woman who is a first at some major position is under the microscope more. Undoubtedly, she beleives in loyalty and that has value., though I'm glad Murtha lost - the need to overcome partisanship is really paramount.I'm still not sanguine it will happen (though Pelosi may bring the House close now.) The Senate is so close and the new leadership Republican team doesn't thrill me as great non-partsans. And, of course, the Uniter Not a Divider is pushing Bolton and some rejected appelate judges in the rump sessionm.There's even this thread...Murtha was hardly the poster boy for an ethics bill for sure, but the other side of the House couldn't get anything decent done on it with their majority.As to Lott, he may not be a racist but his infamous remark was racist behaviour. So I don't think he desrves a free pass to leadership, not because he's a racist or not, but the message it sends to the good old boys, of whom I submit there are still quite a few around.Finally, and I know this will bring down many posts on my head, I'll judge the next Congress's value on what it gets done first and foremost on the bread and butter and not the hot button issues

Again, I don't get the double standard. Robert Byrd, twenty plus years a leader in the KKK - he says I'm sorry - and all is forgiven. Trent Lott, one stupid sentence at a birthday party, for which he has repeatedly apologized - he is forever unfit.That aside - do we really think the Murtha issue has anything to do with Pelosi being a woman? Really? Do you think a man who supported someone with his past would not have been criticized? Also, just wait until Alcee Hastings is made Chairman of the Intelligence Committee. If he wasn't in Congress he couldn't even get a security clearance as a convicted felon. For all of the "culture of corruption" talk, at least the GOP boots out their bad apples with some dispatch.

Thank you to those able and willing to address my question: What is going on here? So, Thesis 2: the media has its fixed views about Dems and Repubs, and it/they are not nimble enough to actually chase down the story, if any.I know it doesn't make much difference to "The Predictables," but I carefully said "racist-talking Senator Lott," implying his talk was racist; I don't know whether he is a racist or not. Robert Nunz may be on to something: such language signals fellow-feeling to the good old boys--and girls.Whatever Pelosi's motives in backing Murtha (whose ethics may not be that much different from Hoyer's or Hastert's or....), I admire her loyalty to him and to her promise to back him.

Margaret,Loyalty is the last refuge of politicians? You assume that Pelosi backed Murtha because she promised to. Could it not have been that Pelosi backed and promised to back Murtha because of her rivalry with Hoyer? On the whole I think today's NYT's critque of Pelosi was sound.

Margaret,I think it is fair to ask if you think it is because she is a woman since that is what the title of your post - Girl Governace - suggests.I think any Democrat, who came in with a "No Culture of Corruption" pledge would get the same treatment, and I predict you will continue to see it since, IMHO there is not an iota of difference between the parties on this issue. In fact, I think the "loyalty" you so admire will make it worse. The GOP has a history of dropping people with ethical or other issues much quicker than the Dems - probably because they had such a long history out of power (for all the talk of their dominance, it was only 12 years, compared with almost 50 for the Dems before them)Lott is a case in point. He was dropped faster than you could say Strom Thurmond for something that was, as I said, pretty minor and his return reflects that. The Dems don't typically do that. If they drop someone, it takes forever and a day - ala Jim Wright - or they don't drop him at all - ala Gary Studds. I say that if Murtha had been a Republican he wouldn't even be in the House any more.

Dear sisters and brothers:As we say in church: "let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with us!"Or something to that effect.

Saturday morning update:Tom Edsall on the op-ed page of the Times (11/18/06) offers a bigger picture of the Dems divided views that may explain some of the flap.But continuing with my original quest: What's going on here? Gwen Ifill on "Week in Review" described Senator Hilllary Clinton as a "scold" for questioning General Abizaid. Why? Why not Senator Graham or McCain? And then taking a cue from Jon Stewarrt, Ifill made merry with Clinton's use of the word "horatory." Good grief!Maureen Dowd on the same op-ed page as Edsall recounts a series of botox jokes from Republicans. Is this what we have to look forward to in Election 2008?

Democrats do have a tougher time with unity than the Republicans. This can be good, of course, when opposing war and other inanities. Hopefully, Pelosi will learn that one must lead the whole rather than get stuck on loyalties to one. Especially if the ethics on that loyal one is murky.So independence and loyalties have advantages.

For all of the "culture of corruption" talk, at least the GOP boots out their bad apples with some dispatch.>>>Sean, give us a break with this one. How long............did Delay stay around until there were just too many crimes against him?

Let's be fair. Maureen Dowd cited the botox kokes as manifesting Republican foolishness. But then she went after Pelosi for poor judgment. Dowd was on target throughout.

On the whole Im glad Murtha lost the job. But I understand where Margaret is coming from. After an election season in which her political opponents turned Do you want Pelosi as Speaker? into what they thought would be a fearsome political slogan, its to be expected that Pelosis every action once elected would be examined closely for signs that she is about to confirm their worst fears. Maybe any Speaker of either sex , as the potential wielder of great power in the hyper-sensitive atmosphere of the House, would have to expect to find everyone mulling over the pros and cons of key, early appointments and what they imply for the future. But the nasty edge to the criticism of her first major decision does suggest that Pelosis being a woman is an issue for the press and some of her colleagues. I hope she can keep her cool and roll with the punch. She may have dropped the ball once, but lets see what she does, as they say in Washington these days, in the next four to six months -- at least .

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