Murtha Loses... But It's Still a Victory for Pelosi

The votes are in and Steny Hoyer is the new House majority leader, winning out over Jack Murtha 149-86.

For all the reasons I've made abundantly clear, I would've loved to see Murtha as Majority Leader. But he remains the Democratic leader on Iraq -- and we need his unwavering voice on the war out there more than ever, as the debate on Iraq threatens to enter the twilight zone.

Barely a week after the American people sent the unequivocal message that they want to bring our troops home, we have Gen. Abizaid telling the Senate Armed Forces Committee that he was "very encouraged" by his recent trip to Iraq, that "significant progress is being made" in turning over security to "capable Iraqi forces," and that "levels of sectarian violence are down in Baghdad." Tell that to the 150 Iraqis kidnapped on Tuesday or the dozens killed in the last few days.

What's more, we even have the New York Times -- not George Bush or Dick Cheney, mind you, but the editorial page of the Times -- arguing for more troops to be sent "in one last push to stabilize Baghdad." First McCain, now the Times -- the peace through escalation meme is catching on.

So even though Murtha won't be Majority Leader, he is still the one Democrats need to follow on Iraq -- the clearest, most passionate voice breaking through the cacophony trying to give new life to staying the course or, even worse, upping the ante in Iraq.

And don't shed any tears for Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi. Even though her guy lost, this was still a big win for her. A victory for taking a stand -- and for her leadership. Because that's what real leaders do, they take stands. They listen to their hearts and follow their gut. If you only jump into the fights you're sure you can win -- notches in the W column that will look good on your political resume -- you're a hack, not someone who can move the party and the country forward. It's not about trying to have a spotless record; it's about knowing which battles are worth fighting, whatever the outcome.

It bodes well for Pelosi that she was willing to spend her political capital right off the bat -- especially on the issue that will define her time at the helm. Far too many modern politicians save their political capital until it's lost all its value.