Magazine article Newsweek

The Democrats' New Fault Lines

Magazine article Newsweek

The Democrats' New Fault Lines

Article excerpt

Byline: Howard Fineman

George Miller was reared in the liberal Democratic Party of Northern California--not the fancy Nob Hill kind, but the fiery kind bred in the docks, shipyards and canneries of the East Bay. His father was state party chairman and taught his son to distrust Big Money and to "go to work like you're killing snakes." Elected to Congress in 1974 at the age of 29--in the wave of Democrats sent to Washington by Watergate and Vietnam--Miller is now the Man of the House: the closest ally of and adviser to the already-embattled speaker, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco. "It sounds corny," he told me, "but I was taught that you acquire power for one reason: to help the seriously disenfranchised."

Ellen Tauscher was reared in business. Her dad was a grocer in New Jersey, and after college she went to Wall Street, where she became one of the first women with a seat on the New York Stock Exchange. In 1989, she migrated to an upscale East Bay suburb. Elected to Congress in 1996--in a district next to Miller's--she now chairs the centrist New Democrat Coalition. Her politics lean toward tax cuts and free trade, but she has a productive working relationship with Pelosi, the proudly quintessential San Francisco liberal. "Nancy and I come from different places," Tauscher says. "But we put our big-girl pants on every day and go to work."

Two fault lines appear on Bay Area maps of Planet Pelosi: the geological San Andreas and the Democratic Miller-Tauscher. The Speaker's task (and, by extension, her party's) is to avoid an intramural earthquake. "This isn't just about the next two years," says Rep. Ed Markey of Massachusetts. "We have to show we are a governing majority."

First comes the relatively easy part, at least in the House. Republican-style "values" issues aren't a problem. While it is true that most of the new wave of "new" Democrats are from suburban or even rural districts, there is no new Democratic Bible Belt in Congress. …

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