A while back I owned a sports car. A legitimate two-seater with room for perhaps a moderately sized flat box (the Dunkin Donuts party pack type) in the back atop the engine and, in the frunk (front trunk) a compartment sized to hold precisely one carry-on sized suitcase. It was, beyond any shadow of a doubt, the least practical car on the planet not named the Lotus Elise (which is like that, but doesn't even have soundproofing).
Occasionally people would point out to me – as though it had not occurred to me independently – that it was not a very practical vehicle. "You can't fit anything in that!" they said, as if my decision to purchase and drive it was driven by cargo capacity. It would be every bit as stupid for me to remind a Honda Odyssey minivan owner that his vehicle couldn't beat anyone in a drag race. One could safely assume that this was not a relevant concern to the Odyssey buyer, nor is it fair to criticize a vehicle designed to carry many passengers safely for being kinda slow.
As you've probably figured out, this post is about Nancy Pelosi.
It struck me recently that there is one important aspect in which nearly all criticism of Pelosi recently has been unfair, and it's not the simple "Well she's a woman" point that has been made a great many times. It is unfair in a sense to criticize Pelosi on the grounds of not being enough of a fire-and-brimstone leader when in ordinary political time there would be zero expectation that a House minority leader or Speaker would fit that mold. That simply isn't what they're for. Criticizing Pelosi for not leading the charge into the front lines of the GOP with her sword out and her hair on fire is technically accurate – she's not – but misses the point of whether anyone should consider that a realistic thing the House Minority Leader might do. It isn't.
Think of how incredibly, almost painfully, dull most of the people who have occupied House leadership positions for either party have been throughout history. There is a reason Speaker, Majority / Minority Leader, etc are not springboards to higher political office or places to groom future presidential candidates.
Bob Michel? Tip O'Neill? Paul Ryan? Sam Rayburn? Dick Gephardt? All people who had some good qualities and filled their House roles well, but my god can you imagine a more boring dinner party to be at? House leaders are technicians and parliamentarians.
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There's a good reason they make terrible presidential candidates when they try.
So the question is, why does it make sense to hold Pelosi's blandness and rather tepid approach against her? It doesn't. The problem is that there is a leadership (not formally, but Big Picture) void in the Democratic Party. Obama and Hillary Clinton were the two most obvious figureheads and now both are Private Citizens; you can't be the party's focal point when you're on the outside. Sanders is too polarizing and also too old. The Democratic Senate leadership is a joke (and also ancient). The only Democrats generating excitement outside of their own constituencies are people like Beto O'Rourke and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who, it bears noting, haven't won anything yet (Beto has held some lower offices, but the Senate race is anything but a sure thing).
People gravitate toward the names they know, and for better or worse Nancy Pelosi is just about the only recognizable name in a leadership position in the Democratic Party at the national level. With Trump turning the GOP into a cult of personality, it is natural to look for a Democratic counterpart. There isn't one; whether there should be is a separate question. It certainly isn't going to be a congressional lifer, if such a person exists.
In short, expecting Nancy Pelosi or any House leader to be inspiring is a bit like expecting your accountant to be inspiring. It's not only terribly unlikely but also very much beside the point.
Yes, I believe all of the Democratic leadership in the House and the Senate need to find successors under the age of 70 and start fading away. No organization, political or not, should feel comfortable with such an old group of leaders. Imagine any big corporation having nobody under 70 on the Board or in a management role. But in the immortal words of Dennis Green, Nancy Pelosi is what Nancy Pelosi is, and that's OK. It is not reasonable to expect her to fill a void that someone like the House Minority Leader would not, in any remotely reasonable set of expectations, be called upon to fill.