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The Democrats won the Social Security battle Pelosi's way. That earned her credit with her colleagues, who have embraced her overall strategy. Throughout the past year, Pelosi has demanded that Democrats unanimously oppose G.O.P. bills. By denying the G.O.P votes from across the aisle, Democrats have forced moderate Republicans to back bills like those cutting Medicaid and other social programs that fiscally conservative Republicans have insisted on, votes for which Democrats have then attacked moderate Republicans in television ads. Pelosi has also ordered Democrats not to work on bills or even hold press conferences with Republicans whom the party is trying to defeat in November.
Meanwhile, at the cost of infuriating parts of her own, progressive base, Pelosi has made a number of pragmatic, tactical moves to better position the Democrats for November. When Louisiana Congressman William Jefferson was found with $90,000 in his freezer from an apparent bribery scheme, Pelosi immediately had him tossed out of his seat on the House Ways and Means Committee. The strongly liberal Congressional Black Caucus was incensed that one of its members had been punished before he had even been indicted. But Pelosi's action helped rebut the G.O.P.'s contention that Democrats had as many corruption problems as Republicans, many of whom are caught up in the Jack Abramoff scandal.
No one among the Democrats has succeeded in solidifying the party around a single position on the Iraq war, but Pelosi has managed to tame the several dozen House members who call themselves the Out of Iraq caucus. They have wanted the Democratic Party to demand the prompt withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. But Pelosi has so far convinced them that Murtha, the ex-Marine and veteran lawmaker whose call for a troop withdrawal in November created real debate, should be the party's face for that cause while the others should stay in the background.
Still, some Democrats think Pelosi's leftward tilt, combined with her strident attacks on Bush, undercuts her strength as a party leader. A number of Democratic candidates have distanced themselves from her. "We hope she campaigns in as many districts as possible," said Ron Bonjean, spokesman for Dennis Hastert, the Republican Speaker of the House. "She comes across as very liberal."
That's not the only issue with Pelosi. Even her supporters acknowledge she's not the ideal spokeswoman for the Democrats in public. When she's not making clumsy remarks, like bragging earlier this year that one of the biggest benefits of a Democratic takeover of Congress would be "subpoena power," she's mind-numbingly repeating whatever talking points the party has agreed on that week or indulging her love of alliteration: "People, politics, policy" and "Money, message, mobilization." The charitable view of her often disjointed speaking style is that she's someone who thinks faster than she talks. The uncharitable view is that "she's Teresa Heinz without the accent," as one Democratic activist said.