In defense of Nancy Pelosi

Let's see if we can get to the crux of what House Speaker Nancy Pelosi stands accused of.

Right-wing radio blowhard Rush Limbaugh, widely considered woefully unattractive himself, accuses Pelosi of being sexually unarousing. He said in a broadcast that one way to lower the birth rate would be to put pictures of Pelosi on the walls of cheap motels.

While typically classless and wholly inappropriate, his assertion is not actually an accusation. Being unsexy, even if Pelosi is that, and I'm not saying either way, is not a matter of character or worth. It's a matter of how one is beheld physically by others, and one often can't help how one is beheld physically by others.

Other right-wing commentators in the cable all-talk wasteland accuse Pelosi of Botox injections, a face-lift and neck work.

Again, I can't say and wouldn't. And, anyway, that's also not so much an accusation as a kind of judgmental criticism of the supposed sort of person who would get herself tidied up cosmetically.

So now let's move from the wholly offensive and nonsensical to the mostly so.

Here is the most terse compilation of Pelosi's supposed misdoing that I can fashion: She declares herself now to be shocked and outraged to learn that we waterboarded terrorist suspects. But, in 2002, she was among selected persons briefed by the CIA on the point.

Now she accuses the CIA of telling her nothing about waterboarding although it had occurred, thus of lying to Congress. This, in turn, causes disgraced former Republican Speaker Newt Gingrich and others of the GOP to say that she is unworthy of remaining speaker, which is third in line to the presidency, because there can be no trust on account of her having said such a thing about our brave and vital intelligence gatherers.

Pelosi responds, and I paraphrase: They told us in 2002 only that certain enhanced interrogation techniques had been approved as legal. They didn't say we were actually doing them. The next year, one of my staff members attended a briefing that I didn't attend at which, apparently, the CIA owned up to engaging in some of these techniques.

Since I was not personally at that meeting and by then no longer the ranking member of House Intelligence, I did nothing while the ranking Democrat, Rep. Jane Harman, who was the appropriate party, sent a letter to the CIA's general counsel raising objections.

So they didn't tell me the truth in 2002, which we can now understand was hardly out of character considering that, at the same time, the Bush administration was lying about evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and the CIA was not publicly challenging or correcting that lie.

Meantime, Pelosi wishes to remind us that it was the Bush administration that tortured. It was the Bush administration that took us to war on false information that this supposed unassailable CIA did not publicly contest.

It was the House under her leadership that voted a ban on torture, vetoed by Bush. And she is the veteran member of Congress who has championed human rights, specifically in China, for decades.

Republicans accuse her of hypocrisy in not raising objections in 2002 or 2003, then of crying out only now. But she can easily say that any criticisms in 2002 of a mere abstraction would have been futile and that, in 2003, her appropriate colleague indeed made formal objections.

Pelosi is clearly guilty of this: political expediency.

She did not risk a brave public position in 2002, then dived head-first into a popular one in 2009.

A politician engaging in expedient pronouncements owing to changing times and circumstances? Please.

Republicans are just trying to weaken her so that she might not so easily ramrod health reform and carbon taxes through this summer.

John Brummett is an award-winning columnist for the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock and author of "High Wire," a book about Bill Clinton's first year as president. His e-mail address is jbrummett@