It’s estrogen, stupid, and plenty of it
The Democrats finally installed Nancy Pelosi as the speaker of the House on Jan. 4, and the talk of Capitol Hill was not about what to do about the war in Iraq, the minimum wage, finding that oxymoron quaintly called “congressional ethics,” or even the prospect of raising congressional pay.
Jan. 4 was all about celebrating estrogen. More powerful than strontium-90, deadlier than polonium-210, estrogen is better for you than testosterone. That was the new speaker’s message, and she got a lot of “amens,” even if most were from the “womens.”
“This is a historic moment for the Congress, and for the women of this country,” Mzz Pelosi told her jubilant partygoers. “It is a moment for which we have waited for more than 200 years.”
The new speaker, catching herself, once tried to soften the tone of partisan and sexual (or “genderal,” in the politically correct usage) triumphalism. “I accept this gavel in the spirit of partnership, not partisanship, and look forward to working with you on behalf of the American people. In this House, we may belong to different parties, but we serve one country.” There’s no “may” about it — the House is definitely made up of different parties — and the next few months should tell us whether the 110th Congress will serve one country.
Several Democratic women from the Senate wandered over to join the 71 women in the new House to join the standing ovations and to see what a lady speaker looks like. Even Bill Clinton, ever on the scout for traces of estrogen, was in town to wave from the gallery to Hillary. They’re both looking sleek and buff, just back from their Caribbean vacation where, despite the harsh speculation of one wag, they did not sleep on separate islands.
“The Democrats are back,” the speaker cried, once raising her tiny fist in a back-to-power salute. “The election of 2006 was a call to change, not merely to change the control of Congress, but for a new direction for our country. Nowhere were the American people more clear about the need for a new direction than in Iraq.”
Mzz Pelosi insists that her new job makes her the most powerful woman in America, and maybe it does, but tiny fist or not she probably shouldn’t say that if she runs into Cindy Sheehan on nanny patrol in the corridors of Congress. Cindy routed Democratic leaders on Jan. 3, taking over a press conference called to set out the party’s legislative agenda, and sending senior Democrats fleeing into an adjoining room where they barred the door. No one had seen the right honorable members of Congress in such panic since the congressional scuttle from First Manassas in 1861, or at least since Denny Hastert led his troops down the Capitol steps in flight from the great anthrax fright, knocking over furniture, aides and everyone in the path to a car, bus, train or plane bound for anywhere but here. Not even a speeding bullet moves faster than a congressman in full fright.
Over on the Senate side, Harry Reid of Nevada, the new majority leader, was making similar politician’s promises that no one expects a pol to keep. He said his majority, such as it is, would “work in a bipartisan basis in an open fashion to solve the problems of the American people argle, bargle, blah, blah and zippity doo-dah [. . .]”
Mr. Reid looks understandably nervous, because his 51 to 49 majority is as fragile as the wires and tubes holding it together in an intensive-care unit at George Washington University Hospital, where Sen. Tim Johnson of South Dakota is struggling to overcome the effects of a brain hemorrhage and the subsequent surgery that saved his life. Not since Bill Frist, who has since returned to his heart-surgery practice in Tennessee, was reassigned to a desk next to the late Strom Thurmond with instructions to do whatever it took to keep a senator breathing has a Senate majority looked quite so fragile.
The rout of the Democrats by Cindy Sheehan illustrates just how fragile the party’s grip of power may be. The peace-at-any-price Democrats imagined they were voting for the impeachment if not the hanging of George W. Bush, and they’re not likely to listen to reason just because temporary sanity rules at the top of the party. Still, it was a great day for hugs, kisses and an estrogen fix powerful enough for anybody.
Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Times.