[T]he logic was to pass progressive legislation! As Galston notes, there’s necessary a conflict between imperative to re-elect members in marginal districts and the imperative to pass progressive bills in the here and now. Any Speaker is going to put some weight on helping marginal members get re-elected, since that’s how you get set the agenda. But a Speaker who counts the marginals as his or her core constituency is going to end up systematically overweighting the re-election campaigns of marginal members over other priorities. A Speaker like Pelosi who comes from the liberal faction is in a position to hold these things in balance. There’s definitely a case to be made that something would be gained by replacing Pelosi with a less-unpopular but equally progressive figure (George Miller?) but no such challenger emerged, seemingly because progressive House members feel that Pelosi’s tactical acumen would be extremely difficult to replace.
I'm mostly with Yglesias. Galston's reliance on polling that shows that Pelosi is unpopular is trite and unconvincing. The very unpopular Newt Gingrich, remember, won three elections for control of the House, one of them while the GOP was losing the presidency in 1996.
But! Just because progressive Democrats were right to try and pass as much progressive legislation as possible -- this is what power is for, and Gallston has yet to produce any evidence that a fantasy moderate Speaker could have held the Democrats' majorities amid crippling unemployment -- doesn't mean that Pelosi truly mastered the art. Progressives have convinced themselves that Pelosi's Democrats were unfairly punished because the Senate didn't act on the legislation she passed. Well, sure. But I assume she could have gotten senators on the phone.to ask whether the bills she was passing had chances of success. What was the point of passing a cap and trade bill far more painful to coal country and business than the one that Democrats knew could get through the Senate? Why keep aged Democrats in their chairmanships instead of copying the GOP's reforms and letting younger members move up? Why place so much trust in David Obey to come up with a stimulus package?
Yes, Pelosi was smart to push as hard as she could for legislation that would be tough for future GOP congresses and presidents to unravel, and yes, it's the fault of the Senate and the president that House bills didn't get to Obama's desk. But Pelosi knew that those challenges would exist and her defenders haven't explained why the response to them was passing 400 bills that went nowhere.