WASHINGTON, Nov. 14 (UPI) -- As most everyone expected, Democrats in the U.S. House chose California Rep. Nancy Pelosi to be their new leader. The vote, by secret ballot, split 177 for Pelosi, 29 for Rep. Harold Ford, Jr., from Tennessee. Rep. Marcy Kaptur of Ohio, who got into the race late Wednesday, dropped out early Thursday once it was clear her urgings to slow the process fell on deaf ears.
Pelosi is an interesting choice.
She is the kind of Democrat national party leaders have tried for 15 years to pretend no longer exists. She is a liberal -- a San Francisco liberal -- not a southern centrist, the only type of Democrat to achieve success in national elections since 1976.
Bill Clinton, running as a centrist in 1992 and 1996, was the only one able to pull together the requisite number of states necessary to win the presidency for the Democrats -- though there were more votes cast for others than cast for him in each election.
By choosing Pelosi, House Democrats have opted to put the old face, the pre-Clinton face, the one the voters have rejected time and again, out before the public.
The idea that Pelosi is a liberal is not Republican spin. The National Journal, a publication written for those with an abiding interest in Washington public policy that takes no ideological positions, evaluates the voting record of every member of Congress.
It says that, in 2000, Pelosi's votes on economic issues were "liberal" 92 percent of the time and "conservative" just 5 percent of time.
On social issues she voted the liberal line 94 percent of the time and never cast a conservative vote.
On foreign policy issues she cast the liberal vote 85 percent of the time, the conservative vote 10 percent of the time. The ratings she has earned from ideological organizations on the left underscore that perception.
In 2000 Americans for Democratic Action gave her a "100" rating -- as did the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The League of Conservation Voters, a liberal environmental group, gave her a 93. That's just for starters.
Pelosi voted against banning partial-birth abortion -- which passed the House 287-to-141 -- and against permitting state and local governments to display the Ten Commandments on public property -- which passed 248-to-180. She also voted to sustain Clinton's veto of the effort to phase out the death tax and the gift tax -- all issues that poll in the neighborhood of 80/20 in the other direction from her.
Most of all, Pelosi has been a leading voice in the almost reflexive opposition some Democrats have staked out to most any of the initiatives the Bush administration has tried to push.
On Election Day, George W. Bush's job approval number was somewhere in the mid-60s. This is an almost unheard of achievement for a president at the time of his first mid-term. Pollster John Zogby says that, according to his research, between 4 and 12 percent of the electorate decided how they were going to vote on Election Day morning -- and that the majority of them broke for Bush and the Republicans.
The Republicans increased their seats in the House, regained control of the Senate, out-performed expectations for their gubernatorial candidates and won a majority of the total number of state legislative seats for the first time in decades, if not ever.
Into this steps Nancy Pelosi, candidate of the left wing of the Democrat Party in the House. The wing of the party that has opposed and derided Bush both personally and in matters of public policy. The wing of the party that the Clintonites, the only ones who have been able to succeed nationally, tried in vain to pretend no longer existed.
Now that she is the leader, it can only get worse.
Many of the people who backed Pelosi are those who lament "Democrats did not sound like Democrats" in the 2002 election, meaning they sounded too much like Republicans. The pressure is on Pelosi to pull the party to the left in Congress and on the national stage and to do it quickly.
Her base is not those House Democrats to whom the siren song of negotiation, compromise and unity will be a soothing lullaby. Her base wants to see hard-edged distinctions and active confrontation.
In 1994, when Newt Gingrich became the first Republican Speaker in 40 years, he faced a similar dilemma. As leader of the party in Congress, Gingrich recognized he needed to represent the interests of all the members of his conference, liberals and conservatives. But he who had made his reputation through the politics of confrontation was soon laid low by it -- as the conservative freshmen who made up the class of 1994 cheered him along.
They wanted an aggressive stand against Clinton and, under Gingrich's leadership once the Contract with America was completed, they got it.
This led to confrontation with Clinton over the budget and a government shutdown -- for which the GOP was blamed. Though not Gingrich's fault -- it was actually a kind of groupthink that led the Republicans into the morass -- his support among his own members nevertheless began to weaken.
Pelosi faces the same dangers.
If she leads from the center, her base on the left will become angry and restless.
If she leads from the left, against a popular president much of the country believes is likable and, according to pollster Kellyanne Conway, believes Bush "Is like me," she risks marginalizing herself and her party in the 2004 election.
By moving to the left, re-embracing the politics of confrontation, the Democrats now run the risk of losing their status as a national party. In the not-too-distant future they may find themselves, as the Republicans were for so many years, a regional party.
It is not that hard to imagine a far-left of center Democrat Party that can regularly win elections on the west coast, in major cities, in parts but not all of New England, in Illinois -- and no where else. And, based on her record, Nancy Pelosi may be just the person to lead them there.
The Peter Principles is a regular column on politics and culture by Peter Roff, United Press International's National Political Analyst.