I have no idea whether John Murtha would have been a better Majority Leader than Steny Hoyer. But the lopsided vote for Hoyer, in the face of Pelosi’s strong backing, suggests that:
1. The Democrats want a weak Speaker.
2. Nancy Pelosi can’t count.
Perhaps it would be possible to put an optimistic spin on those observations, but doing so is beyond my capacity.
Update Unsurprisingly, several readers show that their capacity exceeds mine. Pelosi, they say, backed Murtha but didn’t actually twist any arms. That meant that she could bow in the direction of the Netroots and show her loyalty-down to someone who backed her against Hoyer earlier, but without burning any bridges and while retaining the services of an expert vote-counter and fundraiser. (I’m unenthusiastic, to say the least, about Hoyer’s style of fundraising, which sometimes involves letting the needs of donors such as the banks trump the needs of Democratic voters, e.g. the bankruptcy bill.) On the other hand, the result also leaves Murtha in charge of the Defense appropriation, which means we’re not well positioned to go after the GOP pork-barreling and corruption which could otherwise be a great issue for us and a great way to damage Republican fund-raising.