Yesterday Campus Progress, the youth-oriented project of the sprawling Center for American Progress empire, concluded a two-day series of events on activism and the media. The Center for American Progress (CAP) was founded in 2003 by John Podesta, Bill Clinton’s former chief of staff, and like the Heritage Foundation during Reagan’s presidency, the young organization has quickly become the think tank du jour in Washington. It was no surprise then to see Democratic Party stars such as the Special Advisor for Green Jobs Van Jones, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and, of course, former President Clinton featured in the speakers line up for Wednesday’s massive Fifth Annual National Convention.
Although the Daily Show’s John Oliver did his best to steal the show, the loudest applause was elicited by the Madam Speaker. At the end of a long day heavy on weighty wonkery, Pelosi’s brief speech full of lofty promises garnered elated cheers, especially when she promised to “have a health care bill out of the House by the August break…. And it will have a public option.” While it was surprising to hear her speak about such a difficult and contentious bill in such concrete terms, her short 2010 campaign rally warm-up was also notable for what went unsaid.
As with every speaker before her, Pelosi avoided the issue of gay equality and the costs and trade offs implicit in the raft of bold proposals the Democratic Party has been touting. Some speakers, notably the green jobs evangelist Van Jones and President Clinton who addressed the debt, attempted to balance visions of the promise land with the difficulty involved with there. Perhaps the serial campaigning involved with a 22-year career in the House has left Pelosi unable to determine difference between rallying the troops behind difficult decisions and appeasing them with what increasingly looks to be politically impossible.
The contrast between the vibrant CAP events and the dormant Heritage Foundation could not have been more apparent. But if Speaker Pelosi wants to hold onto the marginal seats Democrats picked up on Obama’s electoral coattails and maintain the Democratic majority past the 2010 election cycle, she would be wise to learn from the failures of the Republican’s ill-fated “permanent majority”. The truth will eventually come out, whether it’s the unsustainablity of war-time tax cuts and the illegality of torture or the cost of health care and the real priorities of the administration.
Nancy Pelosi missed a prime opportunity to level with her most passionate progressive supporters. The applause would have been softer, but the conference attendees may have left with a better understanding of the substance and sticking points of the Democratic legislative agenda.