The Greek philosopher Heraclitus taught us that "character is destiny." Nowhere is character more apparent than in how one responds to adversity. After the failed U.S.-organized invasion of Fidel Castro's Cuba, President John F. Kennedy rightly took responsibility: "Victory has 100 fathers, and defeat is an orphan." After his GOP lost 30 House seats in 2006, President George W. Bush accurately described the defeat as a "thumpin'." Then we have President Donald Trump's unapologetic spin after the GOP lost more House seats — probably three dozen — than in any election since the rout following Watergate. He called it "an incredible day" for the Republican Party for "significantly beating expectations in the House."
As President Trump continues to sail down the River Denial, at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, on Capitol Hill, stands a certifiable grown-up, and if the Democratic House caucus is rational, this former speaker of the House will be the future speaker of the House. It's Nancy Pelosi of California. Just think of the historical irony here. Less than a decade ago, almost single-handedly — through skill, determination and resourcefulness — Speaker Pelosi did what no House leader had ever done. She persuaded her Democratic colleagues, at obvious risk to their own political survival, to pass — not once but three separate times — the Affordable Care Act. It was not popular, and in 2010, Democrats lost 63 House seats and Pelosi her speakership.
But eight years later, Democrats have now re-won the House majority, and what was the galvanizing cause that propelled the party to victory? You guessed right. According to all exit polls, the most important issue to voters was not the economy but instead health care and the Republican Congress' repeated efforts to repeal coverage for Americans with pre-existing medical conditions, a right guaranteed by the Affordable Care Act. By a lopsided margin of more than 3-to-2, voters named the Democrats, not the Republicans, as the politicians they trust to defend coverage for pre-existing conditions.
Contrast the character of the two party leaders — Pelosi and Trump. When Democrat Mikie Sherrill, the former Navy helicopter pilot and prosecutor who would win a New Jersey House seat from the Republicans, was repeatedly questioned by voters about how, given her stated preference for change in Washington, she could support Pelosi as speaker, Sherrill called Pelosi to explain why she would announce that she would not support her for speaker. Sherrill, before the election, told a supporter of Pelosi's very mature response: "Oh, Mikie, just win."
Then there's the non-magnanimous Trump, who used his postelection news conference to trash, by name, losing House Republican candidates who had dared to distance themselves in any way from him and his record. Speaking of Rep. Mia Love of Utah, the only black Republican woman in the House, Trump complained: "Mia Love gave me no love, and she lost. Too bad." Trump's callous treatment of hurting fellow Republicans recalls Gene McCarthy's characterization of his political opponent Robert Kennedy as someone who, after the battle, "comes down from the hills to shoot the wounded."
Which of these two current leaders is the emotionally secure grown-up? Which leader would you depend on in a political crisis to make an unselfish decision for the common good? Well, Pelosi proved — when she negotiated and secured House passage of legislation to save the U.S. auto industry, to rescue the nation's financial industry from collapse, to bring the nation's economy back from the Great Recession and to provide health care to all Americans — she is the single best legislator in the business. It's that simple: Speaker Pelosi.
To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.