When my friend Salli Martyniak heard that Nancy Pelosi would be featured on the CBS news program 60 Minutes, she got excited. Like a lot of professional women who have been turned into political activists by six years of Bush-Cheney-ism, Martyniak's doing everything she can to end Republican control of the House of Representatives. She's got the right campaign signs in her yard, she's writing checks and hosting fundraising events, and she's knocking on doors and making calls in a politically competitive precinct of the battleground state Wisconsin. And she has always lit up at the prospect of the first female speaker of the House.
But when Pelosi's segment aired on 60 Minutes three Sundays before the election, Martyniak said, "I was shouting at the television. How could she say that? How could she so miss the point of being an opposition leader?"
What was it that so infuriated my friend and millions of other Americans who want this election to be about holding an out-of-control presidency to account?
Pelosi, the House Democratic leader who may well surf a wave of voter resentment against the Bush administration and Republican misrule into the speaker's office after the votes are counted Nov. 7, bluntly declared that it would not be the purpose of a Democratic House to restore the rule of law, despite the fact that more than three dozen members of her own caucus are calling for an inquiry into possibly impeachable offenses by the administration, led by Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, who is in line to become chair of the Judiciary Committee if the Democrats retake the House.
"Impeachment is off the table," Pelosi declared.
"And that’s a pledge?" asked CBS’s Lesley Stahl.
"Well, it’s a pledge in the — yes, I mean, it’s a pledge," Pelosi responded. "Of course it is. It is a waste of time."
A waste of time?
Not in the eyes of the American people. A majority of those surveyed last fall in a national poll by Ipsos Public Affairs, the firm that measures public opinion on behalf of the Associated Press, agreed with the statement "If President Bush did not tell the truth about his reasons for going to war with Iraq, Congress should consider holding him accountable by impeaching him."
It was not entirely surprising that 72 percent of Democrats favored impeachment. What was more interesting was that 56 percent of self-described Independents were ready to hold the president to account, as were 20 percent of Republicans. And given what has been learned over the past year about the deceits employed to guide the United States into Iraq and about the quagmire that has ensued, support for impeachment has undoubtedly risen.
So why has Pelosi been so determined to disassociate herself and her potential leadership of the House from talk of impeachment?
Is she, like former House speaker Carl Albert, the Democrat representative from Oklahoma's "Little Dixie" region who cautiously approached the issue of impeaching Richard Nixon, fearful that challenging a president who is still popular with conservative voters will cause trouble at home? Spare me. Pelosi represents what may well be the most impeachment-friendly congressional district in the country.
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted last February to ask Congress to pursue Bush’s impeachment for leading the country into war in Iraq and undermining civil liberties. And on Nov. 7, San Francisco voters are all but certain to approve Proposition J, urging impeachment.