Your Mail: Pelosi Is Polarizing

Most of you thought my article on the comparison between Heath Shuler and Nancy Pelosi was fair criticism. Your qualm was that I didn’t point out Democrats who engage the same tactics.

A fair point maybe, but in the upcoming elections, Dems will have more material than that.

Either way, we should be critical of blanket comparisons, no matter which side pulls the punches.

Ryan of Lake Mary, Fla., writes:

The congressional candidate trying to lump Shuler into the Pelosi crowd is silly, insulting, and at a minimum, a big stretch. Shuler deserves better. But it sure sounds an awful lot like what every Democratic candidate is doing this season; substitute Bush for Pelosi.

SRE: Fair point, however there is a distinction between comparing Republican candidates to the incumbent president who they may have supported on many issues, and Shuler to Pelosi, whose platforms are quite different.

Bambi Maxwell of Georgia writes:

Ads like those he ran are very effective in the South. They're probably effective nearly anywhere. Since the majority of voters are moderate, it's nearly always helpful to associate your opponent with an extreme position. And for the past couple of decades, the term ‘liberal’ has especially been a pejorative.

SRE: Thanks Bambi, I think we both agree, however, that it is a tactic without substance.

Tyler Korfhage of Grand Rapids, Mich., writes:

You are amiss in your assessment of desperation on the Republicans part. Pelosi is an extreme obstructionist liberal and nobody can deny that. She should be a lightning rod. The reasons that Republicans may lose in November is that they are no longer fiscally conservative or socially conservative. They are losing their base and that's the only reasons they will lose.

SRE: Thanks for your analysis. Maybe her election should be a lightning rod issue, but I doubt you think it is fair to make blanket comparisons between her and Shuler.

Gordon R. Booth writes:

On this story, you make a good point, but I don't think you should underestimate the dislike for Pelosi out there (and I understand this isn't the gist of your story, just the part that interests me the most). I think Pelosi has very low approval numbers across the board. So while all politics are local and this may not effect any races, I think Pelosi hurts the Democrats and I would certainly like to see a different speaker of the house should they win control.

SRE: I appreciate your separating the issues. Pelosi’s platform might be something I address in a later column.

Elliot Atkinson writes:

So it's desperation to compare a congressional candidate to Nancy Pelosi, but it wasn't desperate to compare every Republican candidate in America to G.W. Bush for the last six years?

That's what campaigns do. You take the most polarizing figure that party has, make them sound like the devil on earth, and then you tell everyone that this candidate is exactly like them. Nancy Pelosi is polarizing. In red state North Carolina, voters probably don't care much for Pelosi. Just like in blue state Connecticut, where Joe Lieberman is portrayed as a Bush supporter. How is it desperation in North Carolina, but not in Connecticut?

SRE: I didn’t say that these elections tactics aren’t employed on both sides, however in Joe’s case, comparisons between him and Bush usually arise from issue similarity, like support for the war. Furthermore, there are more thoughtful and engaging ways to run an election that emphasize the actual difference between candidates and his or her platform. While this tactic might be standard election fare as you suggest, we can still rightly criticize it.

Susan Estrich is currently the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California and a member of the Board of Contributors of USA Today. She writes the "Portia" column for American Lawyer Media and is a contributing editor of The Los Angeles Times. She was appointed by the president to serve on the National Holocaust Council and by the mayor of the City of Los Angeles to serve on that city's Ethics Commission.

A woman of firsts, she was the first woman president of the Harvard Law Review and the first woman to head a national presidential campaign (Dukakis). Estrich is committed to paving the way for women to assume positions of leadership.

Books by Estrich include "Real Rape," "Getting Away with Murder: How Politics is Destroying the Criminal Justice System" and "Dealing with Dangerous Offenders." Her book "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women," is a departure from her other works, encouraging women to take care of themselves by engaging the mind to fight for a healthy body. Her latest book, The Los Angeles Times bestseller, "Sex & Power," takes an impassioned look at the division of power between men and women in the American workforce, proving that the idea of gender equality is still just an idea.