The Not-Particularly Funny Joke Nancy Pelosi Tells to Her Pessimistic Colleagues

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Jan. 31 2014 12:34 PM

The Not-Particularly Funny Joke Nancy Pelosi Tells to Her Pessimistic Colleagues

465773189-house-minority-leader-rep-nancy-pelosi-speaks-during
U.S. House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks during her weekly news conference January 29, 2014 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Josh Voorhees Josh Voorhees

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

Pelosi, for her part, isn’t losing faith that victory in November is possible. She’s grown fond of telling this joke to Democratic members in recent weeks:
At the end of the Cold War, American and Soviet spies just couldn’t stop spying on each other. So they decided to have a contest in one year to prove who were the better spies. They settled on a dog fight. A year later, the Soviets had raised a vicious pit bull; the Americans countered with a meek-looking dachshund. Seeing the dachshund, the Soviets were confident of victory. But once the fight started, the dachshund mauled the pit bull. The Soviets were stunned. The Americans responded: "While you were raising that awful dog, starving it, teaching it to be mean, we were figuring out how to disguise an alligator as a dachshund."
Pelosi’s point: Democrats have to learn how to be smarter and more strategic than their GOP opponents.
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I'm not positive I would call that a joke (feels more like an allegory or fable to me), and if it is a joke, it's not a particularly funny one (although I'll concede that perhaps some of the humor was lost in the third-hand retelling of it). But regardless, the more important point is that it doesn't seem to be doing its intended job. Henry Waxman, a 20-term California Democrat who was in line to regain a committee chairmanship if Democrats retook the House, announced yesterday that he won't run for re-election. His announced departure follows that of other incumbents, including Rep. George Miller, who also would have likely picked up a gavel in a Democratic-controlled chamber. Those departures only fuel the pessimism loop among Democrats on Capitol Hill and the campaign trail, and rightly so if you look at the numbers.

Pelosi will continue to put on a brave face—just as she did in 2010 when she maintained until the very end that Dems would keep the House—but the vast majority of mid-term forecasts have the Republicans picking up a handful of seats later this year. According to the Washington Post, even with all the uncertainty built into those early simulations, Democrats have only slightly better than a 1 percent chance of winning 218 or more seats and returning the gavel to Pelosi.

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