On Wednesday, Nancy Pelosi was reelected as minority leader with 68 percent of the vote. The result was not particularly surprising. The last four elections have not been kind to Democrats in the House (and that’s putting it mildly), but it’s hard to blame Pelosi, who is widely beloved in the lower chamber. Ryan, a former Pelosi mentee, praised her throughout his brief campaign.
Furthermore, the argument against Pelosi was mostly geographic. A San Francisco liberal, she is certainly removed from the Midwestern counties that Clinton lost in historic fashion. Ryan, in contrast, represents Ohio’s 13th District. But she is an opponent of Wall Street who voted against the Iraq War.
Still, that doesn’t mean that Ryan’s bid for leadership was without merit. Ryan helped articulate where Democrats need to stake their flags over the next two years: on building an economic message based on policies that benefit working people. Ryan’s platform emphasized the tax code, manufacturing jobs, worker training, and trade. There’s nothing in there that stands in contrast to what Pelosi will probably offer, but emphasizing those positions and keeping them foregrounded is important.
But the biggest reason why Ryan’s bid should be applauded is that Democrats need to embrace dissent—even if it doesn’t seem productive–over the next two to four years. There is a lot of talk within the Democratic Party about how unity is of paramount importance right now. But unity—clearing a path for an anointed presidential candidate, say—was partly what got them into this mess. Division can be a crucible that forges better policies. The period between 2004 and 2008 was one in which the Democratic Party was often at war with itself—and the 2008 primary made the 2016 one look like a picnic. But over that period the Democratic Party rebuilt itself into a winner on the national level.