Being right has major downside

It is always dangerous to be right, noted Voltaire, in matters where the established authorities are all wrong. In 2002, barely a year after the attacks of 9/11, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, three papers that rarely agree editorially on anything more controversial than the observance of Mother’s Day, all endorsed the U.S. going to war against the Iraq of Saddam Hussein, who was, we were told, well on his way to building weapons of mass destruction that threatened this nation.

War fever seized the Congress to where every senator in either party who would run for the White House in the next four presidential elections voted to endorse the George W. Bush administration’s call for the authority to invade Iraq. Voting to go to war were Sens. Evan Bayh, Joe Biden, Sam Brownback, Chris Dodd, Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Joe Lieberman, John Kerry, John McCain, Rick Santorum and Fred Thompson. More than a dozen years later, when the Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll asked, “Do you think the war with Iraq was worth it or not worth it?” barely one-quarter of Americans answered yes.

One congressional leader then who still holds office today stood on the House floor in 2002 to speak in opposition to the U.S. going to war against Iraq. This Democrat, ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, stated, “I have seen no evidence or intelligence that suggest that Iraq poses an imminent threat to our nation.” Thus did then-House Democratic Whip Nancy Pelosi dare to speak truth and wisdom on war and peace to power.

The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, along with President George W Bush and overwhelming majorities in Congress and the American establishment, including journalism, were wrong. And Pelosi was right.

Now in the heat of the 2018 campaign, when the economy under this controversial Republican president is, frankly, booming, we learn from the Kaiser Health Tracking Poll that a candidate’s position on continuing protection for people with pre-existing conditions is either “the single most important factor” or a “very important” factor to 63 percent of people in their vote for Congress. The Republicans who ran on the simple, empty promise to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act are exposed and on the political defensive. Former Republican House Speaker John Boehner admitted in a burst of candor, “In the 25 years I served in the United States Congress, Republicans never, ever, one time agreed on what a health care proposal should look like. Not once.”

Why is there a U.S. law that prohibits discrimination in health care coverage against Americans who suffer from a pre-existing condition? Because in the studied judgment of political scholar Norm Ornstein: “She’s the strongest Speaker we’ve seen in our lifetime. She’s relentless. She knows how to push the right buttons. She makes things happen.” The Economist wrote simply, “Mrs. Pelosi is arguably the most powerful woman in American history.” Recall that in the teeth of the Great Recession, Pelosi persuaded her Democrats to bail out Wall Street to save the American automobile industry, and to pass a $787 billion economic stimulus package in addition to a complete overhaul of the nation’s health care system. Persuading your members to cast tough, unpopular votes because it is the right thing to do is the ultimate test of the leader — which you understandably may not recognize after seven years of GOP control. Time and again, Nancy Pelosi met that test.

Now Republicans, terrified of running with Trump and his toxicity, spend millions to run against the only woman House Speaker in U.S. history. When some nervous Nellie Democrats seek to distance themselves from her, it is time to state unequivocally: Nancy Pelosi is the one American leader with the proven savvy, brains, skill and toughness to check the excesses of this president. Pelosi for speaker.

Editor’s note: To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate website at