11/10/2010 01:57 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Why Nancy Pelosi Should Be Benched

I love Nancy Pelosi. But I'm afraid she's doing a disservice to the Democratic Party, President Obama and herself by trying to hold on to power after losing her job as Speaker of the House.

Even though she did a terrific job as leader of the fractious House Democrats the past four years, and even though she made history as the first woman Speaker, and, yes, even though the legendary Sam Rayburn didn't step aside after he was deposed as Speaker not once but four times, I think it's time for Pelosi to lay down a sacrifice bunt instead of swinging for the fences.

The baseball analogy is supremely ironic, in light of the fact that Pelosi's beloved San Francisco Giants won the World Series on the eve of last Tuesday's Republican mid-term landslide that sent her and at least 60 House Democrats, including three senior committee chairmen, to early showers.

I happened to be in San Francisco to attend the funeral of an old Army buddy, and was watching Game 2 on TV Thursday night at AT&T Park when Giants catcher Buster Posey's bat slipped out of his hands and narrowly missed Pelosi in a box seat on the third base side. In retrospect, it was a bad omen for Pelosi, who five days later became a lame duck Speaker.

I've come to the conclusion that she should not stay on as Democratic leader reluctantly because I'm an admirer of Pelosi, the eighth Speaker I've covered since coming to Washington in 1965 as a young reporter for the Ridder Newspapers. None of them, except for Tip O'Neill, has done a better job of leading House Democrats.

As I wrote in The Hill in November 2002 after she beat out Maryland's Steny Hoyer for House minority leader, Republicans couldn't wait to portray her as a knee-jerk San Francisco liberal.

But I cautioned them to "hold off ordering the champagne because Pelosi may be just what the Democrats needed... She has some of the best political blood lines in Congress. She learned how to turn political favors into votes by helping her father, the political boss of Baltimore, Thomas D'Alesandro Jr., keep track of constituent requests in what he called the 'favor file.'"

I concluded, "Republicans may view Pelosi as the answer to their dreams, but the daughter of the legendary former congressman and three-time major of Baltimore could turn out to be their worst nightmare."

Well, it didn't quite work out that way, I'm sorry to say. Even though Pelosi did a yeoman's job in helping President Obama push through his ambitious legislative agenda, including historic reforms of the healthcare system and the banking industry -- and raised tons of money for fellow Democrats -- she has to share some of the blame for the Democrats' catastrophic defeat.

She also figures to be an albatross around their necks if she continues as leader.
Not only will she serve as a political piñata for Republicans ready to spend millions of dollars in attack ads to portray her as the face of the Democratic Party and a female Che Guevara bent on making America look like Haight Ashbury, but she's certain to divide Democrats as well.

Witness the bitter battle already shaping up between Majority Leader Hoyer and the number three Democrat, Majority Whip James Clyburn of South Carolina, a leader of the 42-member Congressional Black Caucus, for the number two Democratic leadership spot in the next Congress. Clyburn criticized Hoyer Tuesday for releasing the names of his supporters.

"This is not about playing the numbers game," Clyburn told The Hill. "This is about respecting and honoring the members of our caucus in such a way that they will be comfortable with the process. I don't see how you maintain a comfort level for all of our members by rolling out these names. I don't think it does the process any real good."

Pelosi met with both Hoyer and Clyburn in recent days and obviously wants to avoid a divisive intramural battle between her two top lieutenants. But even if she does, and that's not at all certain, she's still going to be one of the most polarizing figures on the political landscape in the next two years.

It would have been better for her fellow Democrats, for President Obama and for her own political legacy if she'd recognized that her party needs a fresh start, and can't get it with her as their cleanup hitter.