During and after the vote last night, numerous pundits and passers-by were praising Nancy Pelosi, contrasting her "ability" to keep her caucus unified with the chaos on John Boehner's side of the aisle. Here, for example, is Ian Millhiser:
Nancy Pelosi controls 198 votes in the House.Hogwash.
John Boehner controls 87.
Nancy Pelosi was an excellent Speaker -- as I've said, I rank her second only to Tip O'Neill in the modern era, and that's giving him points because he had to figure it out for the first time (since he was the first of the true modern Speakers; the reform era ran from 1959 to 1975). So this isn't anything against her.
But really: House Minority Leader is one of the easiest jobs in Washington. Keeping her party unified against an obviously losing strategy by a small minority of the most unpopular Republicans? C'mon, that's no achievement. You know who was able to lead an absolutely unified party? John Boehner, in 2009 and 2010. He hasn't suddenly lost his touch; it's just a different, and much harder, job.
And I apologize for taking the wording of a tweet too seriously, but neither Pelosi or Boehner or any other leader "controls" votes in Congress. Not in any kind of strong sense. We're talking about 435 independent, autonomous actors. Yes, Speakers have some influence on what individual Members do (far more than Senate party leaders do), but it only goes so far. They start to go very far from what the party wants, and..well, ask Jim Wright and Newt Gingrich how long a Speaker lasts who tries to "control" too much. Indeed: one of the reasons Pelosi was highly successful as Speaker is that she didn't attempt to be the dictator of the House.
Again: nothing against Pelosi. She was excellent when it counted. But this is all evidence not for Pelosi's skills and Boehner's lack of skills, but that structural things matter more than individual skills in many cases.
Boehner's problem isn't that he's a poor Speaker. His problem is that he has 232 Republicans, and a good 50 to 100 of them want no distance between themselves and Louie Gohmert. If Nancy Pelosi had been forced to deal with 50 to 100 Members who wanted no distance between themselves and Dennis Kucinich (or Cynthia McKinney), and if Kucinich and McKinney defined themselves in large part by establishing a distance between themselves and the "Democratic establishment"...well, that's a much harder job than she actually had. And that's only the beginning of the structural differences.
One more time: Pelosi was an excellent Speaker. But her skills just don't explain much of what's been happening in the House this month.