Last night Twitter lit up with clips of Nancy Pelosi at the CNN Town Hall responding to a college student asking if the Democrats might be wise to adopt more populist economic policies and priorities.
Before asking the question, NYU student Trevor Hill said the alt-right had scored too many points with populist rhetoric. The question was basically saying, “we all know the right-wing has no intention of improving economic conditions for working Americans, so what can the Democrats offer that’s different?”
He then tee’d off with some polling data suggesting that 51% of people between the ages of 18-29 no longer support the “system of capitalism.” A smart politico would have taken this as a straw man, because he then said, “that’s not to make you make a radical statement about capitalism, but I’m just telling you that my experience is that the younger generation is moving left on economic issues.”
Here’s his final softball question: “I’ve been so excited to see the party move left on social issues…but I wonder if there’s anywhere you feel that the Democrats you could move farther to the left to a populist message the way the alt-right has captured this populist strain on the right wing—if you think we could make a more stark contrast to right wing economics.”
You can see in the split screen in the clip below, that his question made Pelosi visibly uncomfortable. Trevor had barely finished as Pelosi jumped up to say (dismissively), “Well, I thank you for your question, but I have to say—we’re capitalists.”
What’s most sickening about this response is that it reflects so poorly on the capitalism that actually made this country great. Sure Nancy, Democrats are capitalists, but we also don’t fool ourselves into thinking that completely unregulated capitalism is consistent with Democracy, or consistent with having a middle class. If you want Democracy and a middle class, you have to regulate capitalism. Period.
Realizing that she’d just really stepped in it, she tried to reel it back in, and rambled on for five minutes describing John D. Rockefeller’s Stakeholder Capitalism versus Shareholder Capitalism, but never offered a solution, or even commiserated with Americans who are getting the economic shaft while CEOs are feasting on our productivity. The moderator had to cut her off.
At the very least, Trevor’s question offered the perfect opportunity for Pelosi (the 12th richest member of Congress, worth 54 million according to one estimate) to score an emotional point, but she was inexplicably unable to meet that challenge. This is why Twitter went nuts.
This incident reminded me another recent Pelosi goof, when she claimed, after the shocking November elections, that she believed Democrats were quite happy with…things. Appearing on Face the Nation Pelosi was asked, “The Democratic party is in a moment of questioning about its identity…What do you tell Democrats who want a new direction and what are you going to do differently?
She responded, “Well, I don’t think people want a new direction.” Saying further that the problem we had in the 2016 election was one of messaging: “What we want is a better connection of our message to working families in our country, and that clearly in the election showed that that message wasn’t coming through.”
No really, it’s not the messaging. It’s the policy and priorities. We really want, and need better economic policy from our leaders.
The problem with always blaming our failures on messaging is that at some point a clever person like Trevor, is going to call you on it. The reason your messaging isn’t working, is because there’s no policy work to back it up. Pelosi had a chance last night to change that messaging and she blew it because there’s no there there. She couldn’t point to one policy position that would help people struggling in a nightmarish economic environment. Her bumbling answer made no sense, made no one happy, and worse, it indicated that the Dems are a long way from being able to clean up their act, since they can’t even face their constituents’ problems head-on.
Oh, and I hear they don’t want a new direction, either.
Here’s the clip: