Appearing as a guest on Monday’s Last Word, MSNBC contributor and Princeton University Associate Professor Melissa Harris-Perry claimed that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Barack Obama have pushed a "sort of center right" agenda as she defended Pelosi’s decision to stay on to lead House Democrats despite her party’s defeat. As she missed the point that most moderate Democrats hold conservative-leaning districts where Pelosi and Obama are unpopular, she suggested that moderate Democrats fared poorly in the elections because they were not supportive enough of Pelosi and Obama. Harris-Perry:
It may be, in fact, that precisely what the party needs is to learn the lesson of 2010. In 2010, it was the Blue Dogs who lost most heavily as any individual category of Democrats, that the group most repudiated by voters in this election were those Democrats who didn't get on board with Pelosi's agenda, who ran against President Obama's agenda. The notion that we should now discontinue a Pelosi/Obama sort of forward-moving progressive agenda, and it's not that progressive, I mean, it's sort of center right, and the idea that we should move to the right of that agenda, I think, is exactly misreading what happened in 2010.
Below is a complete transcript of the relevant segment from the Monday, November 8, Last Word on MSNBC:
LAWRENCE O’DONNELL: With current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi clinging to the wreckage of the Democratic Party in the House of Representatives, a fight is breaking out over who will take the number two spot in the Democratic leadership. The contenders for Minority Whip are current House Majority Leader, Maryland Democrat Steny Hoyer, and the current House Majority Whip, South Carolina’s James Clyburn. So far, Speaker Pelosi is staying officially neutral in the fight, but it is already splintering House Democrats with members starting to line up behind the two men. Joining me now, MSNBC contributor and associate professor at Princeton University, Melissa Harris-Perry. Melissa, the New York Times today editorialized that Nancy Pelosi should step aside, she should not be creating this leadership battle, and that, with her poll numbers so bad out there in the country, she is no longer capable of being an effective leader of the Democrats in the House. Is the New York Times right?
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: No, I got to, I got to say I think the New York Times might be wrong on this one. So let me suggest a couple of things. First, it’s a good sign for the party that there is a leadership battle going on. We really only need to worry when nobody wants to lead the party after, you know, after a loss as tough as the midterms were. The fact that there are folks in the party right now who are still worried about how to gain leadership, how to hold leadership, how to direct the party, is indicative that the party is still alive. And that’s a good sign. But importantly, I also think that the notion that Pelosi’s numbers are low is a good reason to kick her out as leader of the party I think is really troubling. First, because we know that, you know, she did what she needed to do. She won in her district. National numbers on an individual, even someone like the Speaker of the House, are not very informative. And on top of that, look, she’s acting like winners act, she wants the ball when the game is on the line. I think we have got to be willing to stay the course with sort of openly progressive Democrat leading the party.
O`DONNELL: Well, let’s take a look at what her poll numbers actually are at this point. The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal numbers put her overall approval rating at just 24 percent, with 50 percent giving her a negative rating. And, looking at independents, this is where it gets bad, the numbers get much, much worse. Just eight percent of independents give her a positive rating and the negative jumps to 61 percent. It was those independents who decided this last election. Given that the leader, the party leader in the House is the face of the party in the House, just with those numbers, going out to independents to try to get them next time around to go with the Democrats, how can Nancy Pelosi do that in the face of those polling numbers?
HARRIS-PERRY: I mean, let’s be really clear, that the category "independent" is not a clear category. I think Americans tend to think that Democrats are over here and Republicans are over here and independents exist in the middle. But that’s simply not true. Independents are a whole group of folks, some of them to the left of Democrats, some of them to the right of Republicans, some of them in the middle, and some of them simply disaffected. To look at a number on independents and say that you know what that category is going to do, I think, is a really poor way to read polling results.
It may be, in fact, that precisely what the party needs is to learn the lesson of 2010. In 2010, it was the Blue Dogs who lost most heavily as any individual category of Democrats, that the group most repudiated by voters in this election were those Democrats who didn’t get on board with Pelosi’s agenda, who ran against President Obama’s agenda. The notion that we should now discontinue a Pelosi/Obama sort of forward-moving progressive agenda, and it’s not that progressive, I mean, it’s sort of center right, and the idea that we should move to the right of that agenda, I think, is exactly misreading what happened in 2010.
O`DONNELL: How should the Democrats sort out the battle now between Steny Hoyer and Jim Clyburn?
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, this is a tougher one. Look, I think Hoyer didn’t keep those Blue Dogs in line during most of this last Congress. And, as I just said, it’s those Blue Dogs who had the highest losses. You know, I like Clyburn for this position. Now, I just like Clyburn for lots of reasons. But part of the reason I like him is because I think we’ve got to, particularly if we stick with a Pelosi, a kind of West Coast Democrat, I think having a true Southern Democrat, and I know this sounds funny because we don’t think of African-American Dems as Southern Dems, but they are the most aggressive potential for growth is among African-Americans. So I got to say, keeping a civil rights leader in that position, I think, is the right way to move forward for the next presidential election.