THE BLOG

The GOP vs. Pelosi: Where's the Outrage?

06/29/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

As the Grand Old Party declines in popularity, they're resorting to increasingly desperate measures. After months searching for an issue that resonates with voters, Republicans have trained their sights on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

A recent CNN poll indicated that 63 percent of respondents "think the policies being proposed by the President would push the nation in the right direction," while 53 percent said, "Republican proposals would move the nation in the wrong direction." Moreover, two-thirds of voters have an unfavorable view of Congressional Republicans.

It's not only the case that the GOP is unpopular, but also that it lacks leadership. Since voters rebuffed John McCain in November, Republicans have turned to their own axis of evil -- Dick Cheney, Newt Gingrich, and Rush Limbaugh -- as their public face.

The GOP's biggest problem is a failure to define a signature issue. Polls indicate there's not one major issue where Republicans are viewed as having better ideas than President Obama. Given their nosedive, the GOP brain trust has frantically searched for a rallying point for their base. First it was opposition to the stimulus package; Republicans wanted to only cut taxes, despite the fact that Obama had reduced taxes for 95 percent of Americans. That bombed. Next the GOP warned voters that the Obama Administration was leading the U.S. down the path to socialism. That also fell flat. One after another, Republicans brought up issues only to see them fail to attract broad support.

Then, in mid-April, the Justice Department released Bush-Cheney memos authorizing torture. This rekindled re-kindled partisan controversy about Bush Administration tactics in the "war" on terror. The GOP scrambled to avoid admitting they had docilely supported Bush-Cheney policies that made the US less safe. Seeking to divert public attention from their failures, Republicans went on the attack. They accused House Speaker Pelosi of having inside knowledge of the use of "enhanced interrogation techniques," including waterboarding. Republicans claimed because Pelosi did nothing to oppose CIA use of torture, she was complicit in the Bush-Cheney policies.

At a May 14th press briefing Speaker Pelosi responded to these accusations, saying she had only been briefed once about "enhanced interrogation techniques" and told waterboarding was not being employed. She said when it was learned that waterboarding was being used, protests were filed, but Bush-Cheney did not respond. Pelosi accused the CIA of making misleading statements at her briefing and their subsequent statements. She called for the formation of an "independent Truth Commission to determine how intelligence was misused, and how controversial and possibly illegal activities like torture were authorized within the Executive Branch." Pelosi called for the CIA to release all documents related to the 2002-4 CIA briefings.

Republicans cranked up their attack machine, using Speaker Pelosi's comments to create a faux firestorm of indignation. GOP operatives accused her of lying and demeaning the CIA. The Republican National Committee released a misogynist video tagging her as "Pussy Galore." The National Republican Congressional Committee is already running ads linking vulnerable House Democrats to Pelosi.

It's a familiar GOP strategy: rather than tell the truth, lie and go on the attack. Rather than admit the Bush Administration and the CIA lied about their justification for the invasion of Iraq and a host of related policies, Republicans attack Speaker Pelosi because she exposed their lies and incompetence.

Obviously, Republicans demonized Nancy Pelosi because they desperately needed an issue to inflame their base. Nonetheless, making Speaker Pelosi the defining GOP issue seems an unusually stupid tactic. Americans don't care about what happened in 2002; they're focused on the hard times in 2009. Most voters will recognize the tactic as Washington business-as-usual, an attempt by Republicans to divert attention from the fact they have nothing positive to offer in the discussion about America's problems. Furthermore, Pelosi is far more popular among voters, in general, than are any of the prominent Republicans. And she's the first woman to become Speaker of the House of Representatives, the most powerful woman in American politics.

For a Party that desperately needs new members, it's counter-productive to launch a blatantly sexist campaign against Nancy Pelosi. A recent Gallup Poll showed the GOP losing ground among all major demographic groups except "frequent churchgoers." Republicans are rapidly losing support of America's women, particularly single women. The anti-Pelosi tirade will accelerate that trend and damage the GOP.

Since 1874, the symbol of the Republican Party has been the elephant, representing strength and perseverance. Given that they lack ideas, leadership and integrity, it's time for the GOP to adopt a new icon, one that reflects their desire for self-destruction. How about the lemming?