At mid-day Wednesday, it fell to now-former Speaker Nancy Pelosi to introduce her successor, John Boehner, as he was sworn in as Speaker of the House. Some might have forgotten, but four years ago, on January 4, 2007, it was Boehner (not the departing Dennis Hastert) who introduced Pelosi when she first became Speaker. A look at the two speeches -- Pelosi introducing Boehner and Boehner introducing Pelosi -- shows striking differences. Boehner's 2007 speech, coming after Republicans were trounced at the polls in November 2006, was self-effacing, gracious, and non-partisan. Pelosi's 2011 speech, coming after Democrats were trounced at the polls in November 2010, was self-serving, sharp, and partisan.
Start with Pelosi introducing Boehner. The outgoing Speaker began with some boilerplate about the importance of the occasion and then turned to a subject she has addressed many times in the past four years: herself. Her time as the first woman Speaker, Pelosi said, "means that more doors are wide open for all of America's daughters and granddaughters." Then Pelosi cast herself as the defender of America's children in general, "their health, their education, the safety of the air they breathe, the water they drink, and the food they eat."
Pelosi then launched into a list of Democratic legislation -- college loans, financial regulation, and, especially, national health care (which she referred to as a "patient's bill of rights.") that was passed during her time as Speaker. That led to a recitation of Obamacare talking points. "It means children with pre-existing conditions can get coverage; young people can stay on their parents' plans until age 26; pregnant women and breast and prostate cancer patients can no longer be thrown off the insurance rolls; our seniors are paying less for needed prescription drugs; [and] taken together, this will save the taxpayers $1.3 trillion," Pelosi said.
She wasn't finished. Pelosi touted the Lilly Ledbetter Act, veterans' legislation, and ended on a commitment, not observed during her time in the Speaker's chair, to evaluate every piece of legislation on the basis of whether or not it creates jobs. Only then did Pelosi offer a few kind words for Boehner.
Contrast that with Boehner's speech introducing Pelosi on January 4, 2007. It was about 40 percent shorter and began with Boehner celebrating Pelosi's achievement as first woman Speaker. "Today marks an occasion that I think the Founding Fathers would view approvingly," he said. "And my fellow Americans, whether you are a Republican, a Democrat, or an Independent, today is a cause for celebration."
Boehner then looked back to the day in 1995 when Republicans took control of the House. After a brief tribute to Hastert, this is what he said -- all of what he said -- about the GOP time in power:
There were some great achievements during those 12 years that followed; there were also some profound disappointments. If there is one lesson that stands out from our party's time in the majority, it is this: A congressional majority is simply a means to an end. The value of the majority lies not in the chance to wield great power but in the chance to use limited power to achieve great things.
There were no laundry lists, no talking points. Following that brief statement, Boehner went on to pay tribute to "the battle of ideas" that takes place in a democracy, and then he handed the gavel to Pelosi. That was it.
Quite a difference from Wednesday's ceremony.