Friday, June 30, 2006

New Democratic Leadership needed in Congress

Win or lose in the fall, Democrats need new leadership in Congress.

Nancy Pelosi has been in Congress for almost 20 years and Steny Hoyer has been in Congress for 26 years.

Both Pelosi, the Democratic minority leader, and Hoyer, the Democratic Whip were members of Congress "back in the day." Back in the day, that is, when Democrats ran the joint. Old hands can be useful in a parliamentary sense, but as the public faces and obstensibly as the policy and political strategists of the party in Congress, Pelosi and Hoyer have been around too long, in Washington, D.C. too long, to give the party the direction and energy it needs.

One of the key motives driving Newt Gringrich and Tom DeLay back in the 1980's and 1990's was the long drought their party had experienced in Congress. The Republican revolutionaries of 1994 were desperate and driven, "hungry" in the parlance of sports teams. Pelosi and Hoyer probably still think either Democrats are a majority in the House or that replacing a Republican Speaker with a Democratic Speaker wouldn't fundamentally change their performance or purposes.

It's been over ten years since the Republicans regained control of Congress for the first time in forty years. While I recognize arbitary-sounding datelines shouldn't necessarily be locked in stone, it's time for Democratic leadership to start passing to those members who've arrived in Washington after 1994, who realize the implications of being the minority party and possess the ideas and energy needed to change the institution and implement new policies.

Thankfully, relatively new members Tim Ryan of Ohio, and Debbie Wasserman-Shultz of Florida have taken assertive speaking and organizational roles in the House. Along with other new and youngish members of Congress, Ryan and Shultz are a part of the Thirty Something Democratic workgroup in the House. Ryan and Shultz in particular often appear on C-Span afterhours, attacking House Republicans for acting as administration "rubber stamps" and for being generally "unable to govern".

Apparently the "Thirty-something" workgroup was a brainchild of Pelosi's and Hoyer has recognized Shultz's abilities by recruiting her as the party's Senior Whip in the House.

But Democrats in the next Congress, win or lose, should act to put the party's best and freshest faces, such as Ryan's, Wasserman Shultz's and Stephanie Hersheth's, forward in leadership positions where they'll have the responsibility and public exposure the party needs to succeed in building a new party with new ideas for a new generation of Americans.

In the meantime, the party should put it's thirty-something members up front, as examples of the type of Democratic leadership voters can expect to see in the next Congress. It goes without saying that Republicans hope to stir up fear, at least among the media elite, of old time members like John Conyers and John Dingell heading committees. Democrats should respond by showcasing it's newest and most articulate members, contrasting them with the corruption-tainted and interest group beholden Republican majority. And when the next Congress opens, showing it's future-oriented approach by elevating its youngest members to important leadership posts.

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