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Nancy Pelosi: Quarterbacking with a Mandate

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House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi didn’t miss a beat. Yesterday—exactly a week after Democrats’ remarkable series of upset victories on Election Day—Pelosi ran the political football further down the field by unveiling her Party’s “Innovation Agenda.”

Framed as a “commitment to competitiveness to keep America number one,” Pelosi’s agenda would realign national priorities by investing in an educated workforce, broadband access, energy independence, public-private research partnerships and small business growth.

Pelosi effectively called for repairing America’s economy of opportunity in the name of restoring national security. It was a smart play, a one-two jab at the Republicans, just when they are down on both fronts.

Pelosi began preparing for her offensive last week when, for the first time in a long time, Democrats didn’t have to suck it up and issue a defeatist post mortem after Election Day. On November 9th Pelosi beamed: “It's clear that the elections in California, Virginia, New Jersey, and across the country were a rejection of the misplaced priorities of the Republicans in Washington, D.C.”

There was also Colorado’s special election on November 1st, when voters recalled that state’s “Taxpayer Bill of Rights,” the strictest limit on government spending in the nation, and agreed to allocate $3 billion in tax revenue over the next five years to rebuild the portions of the state’s infrastructure that were eviscerated by the sweeping tax cuts.

Is this Democrats’ tipping point? Can we actually claim victory? With Republicans still in control of the House, the Senate, the White House and a majority of the states’ gubernatorial offices, can the tide really be turning? I mean, aren’t we still the underdog party, the one that seems interminably consigned to the political doghouse?

These are the wrong questions.

It comes down to this: Election Day results matter only if we leverage them to claim the real spoils of winning the majority vote—leadership, authority and control over a clear agenda, the likes of which Pelosi has begun to articulate.

But our ultimate challenge remains intercepting the political football from Karl Rove. Rove was momentarily benched by Fitzgerald’s leak inquiry. But now that he’s off the hook, he’s back at the White House with a spring in his step and sure to be up to his old machinations.

With Rove pulling his strings, Bush claimed a national political “mandate” after losing the 2000 presidential election by a couple of hundred votes. He took the White House merely and entirely as the result of the disputed vote count in the state governed by his brother. And with that, he took charge as if he’d won by a landslide.

Tuesday was undoubtedly a good day for Democrats—an Election Day for which we were long overdue—but our wins in California, Colorado, New Jersey and Virginia only matter if with them we seize momentum and initiate a shift in Washington.

America loves the winning team. Now is the time for us to drive home to the American people not only that the Democrats are making a comeback, but also that Bush is a big loser.

The numbers are on our side. Bush’s approval rating is the lowest on record. In an AP-Ipsos poll released last week, only 37 percent of respondents approved of Bush's overall performance or of his handling of the war in Iraq. A minority of those polled described him as "honest" and "ethical," 42 percent and 47 percent, respectively. And 82 percent described him as "stubborn."

For perhaps the first time in his Administration, Bush took the defensive in his Veterans Day speech. Dwarfed by a giant Humvee, Bush issued a rebuttal to the Democrats: “Some observers look at the job ahead and adopt a self-defeating pessimism. It is not justified…These baseless attacks send the wrong signal to our troops and to an enemy that is questioning America's will.”

But the American people are no longer convinced that the war in Iraq is in our national best interest. The public is questioning the Bush Administration’s integrity and competency, especially in the wake of the Katrina travesty.

The country is looking for leadership and the Democrats must step up and provide it. Pelosi’s messages of “together we can do better” and “invest in the Midwest, not the Mideast” are right on.

We need to back up Pelosi and tell the Democratic leadership not to squander our recent victories. It’s time to stick out our chests, start talking trash and assert a bold agenda.

To that end, Pelosi’s “Innovation Agenda” must also include rolling back all of Bush’s first-term tax cuts and reinstating the windfall profits tax on big oil.

Let’s claim our mandate and put some quicksand under Bush’s sinking approval ratings.