Nancy Pelosi: My Kind of Pushy Woman
“‘I’ll take all 68,” was my favorite quotation in last Sunday’s New York Times, really quite a thrilling one, all the better for its terseness. It comes from a whopping front page piece headlined “The Long Road Back: Tactics, Perserverance and Luck Resurrected a Bill,” and it was tossed off by Nancy Pelosi. Here’s the dramatic buildup:
Last week, with a vote drawing near and dozens of House Democrats still wavering—many terrified a vote for the bill would cost them their jobs—House leadership aides arrived at Ms. Pelosi’s office with a list of 68 lawmakers to lobby, turn or bolster. The aides presumed the Democratic leadership would divvy up the names.
“I’ll take all 68,” Ms. Pelosi declared.
And as you can see from the historic, wildly messy, yet-again-back-on-the-defibrillator trajectory of the health insurance bill, Pelosi didn’t delegate when common sense told others as much. As our kids say, I do it myself. She out-LBJ’d LBJ and arm-twisted those reluctant 68 to get those votes, and enough were twisted to secure the 216 needed (the final vote was 222 Dems, 203 GOP). That same Times piece reports that, at the suggestion of Rahm Emanuel, President Obama had been toying with the idea of diluting the bill further to edge it through, perhaps lariat in a Republican or two.
Pelosi would have none of it.
“We’re in the majority,” she’d told the president, not bothering with bipartisanship since it has so glaringly become a non-starter. Republicans: Yeah, talk about the elephant in the room. “We’ll never have a better majority in your presidency in numbers than we’ve got right now,” Pelosi went on. “We can make this work.” Many Democrats stressed that “her upbeat, unflappable attitude buoyed them through the darkest days after Massachusetts [i.e. Scott Brown's election]. But faced with a member she considered intransigent, she could be scary tough.”
Let us now praise “scary tough” women, pushy women, a group I never really included myself in until I became a mom. (Some years back, when corporations could still afford career-building workshops—mine was a treacly but interesting-in-spite-of-itself event called “Management Journey”—it was determined my personality type officially fell into the category of Amiable. Amiables were scorned by Leaders, or Take Chargers, or whatever the alpha category was called. We Amiables politely thought most of them were Louts.)
What of Pelosi’s management journey? Well, I won’t draw the mother cub analogy too tight; you don’t have to be a mom to be a pushy woman. And God knows, she’d fall into the Leader category. And honestly, I’m not sure I’d want to have a beer summit with her. But let us recall that the woman who stated that “being a woman will no longer be a preexisting condition” (what a great Helen Reddy moment!) gave birth to five kids in six years. (“I was pregnant for a good portion the Sixties,” she has said.).
And let us trumpet the fact that parenting involves a whole lotta advocacy. You advocate for your kids with their teachers, their doctors, their frenemies, and on it goes. I currently have a mom friend pushing relentlessly for our school district to admit and repair it’s 43 areas of neglect of special needs services, another who’s been pressing several pediatricians to get to the bottom of her daughter’s leg injury, which isn’t healing right, another knocking on every single retail door in town—such a Willy Loman exercise, in this economy!—to sweet-talk contributions for our school fundraiser.
And to drill down to an even more personal level, there are the infinitely gray (oyster, slate, granite, iron, cinereal!) shades to this pushing business. You can’t, and shouldn’t, push on all fronts, and those fronts change like the March winds, and it can be painfully hard to know when to leave well enough alone. Every single day, we make dozens of calculations on the fly, from should he pour his own damn juice to should she work on her Science Fair project with minimal or medium help (and why must the subject be friggin’ pop rocks again?), to getting him to his piano lesson or deciding oh hell, it’s spring, and he wants to play nerf football with the other guys, and forget about Für Elise für now.
The thing is, everyone pushes hard (i.e., takes all 68) on certain things. I am a stickler about bringing my children to Sunday school, no matter what level of protest. Setting the table, saying please and thank you, weekday screen time limits. But I am a defeatist quisling when it comes to pressing my daughter to clean her room. Get my son to try new foods? Pass the angel hair, no sauce.
Nancy Pelosi raised her family (four daughters, one son) and didn’t plunge into legislative politics until the youngest one hit high school. Before then, she held many volunteer positions in the Democratic party establishment in northern California. Politics is in her DNA; she is the only daughter (she has five brothers) of Thomas and Anunciata d’Alesandro (see below for an old family photo). Her father was a U.S. congressman from Maryland and mayor of Baltimore. She was raised on politics, and she has now been a representative for 33 years. She knows her stuff.
As you know, she is also much-hated on the right. They call her a hag. They use the word Botox a lot. Rush Limbaugh likens her to a terrorist, calls her a mullah.
Not at all to lean toward that camp, but here is the part where I do the on-the-other-hand thing. As an Amiable, and thus a diplomatic Ban Ki-moon sort, I have a hard time with her blunter statements because I think they can unnecessarily alienate. (She publicly called George Bush “a jerk” and “incompetent.” In the Times piece, it was revealed that she talked down to President Obama so much that he snapped, “I am not a stupid man.” )
I’ll also point out the fact Pelosi doesn’t have to worry about her seat or her income, and therefore can get away with tossing around fiery words. Her San Francisco district votes 85% Democrat—the woman represents Haight-Asbury, for God’s sake—so she doesn’t have to court Independents and moderates like most of her House colleagues. Her husband is an investment banker with many real estate holdings (including a Napa Valley vineyard, sweet!) and their worth is estimated at upward of $12.5 million. Thus she can devote herself to fundraising for others—which I’ll wager sweetened the pot for some of the more recalcitrant 68.
None of this takes away my respect for her grindingly hard work, her epic level of coaxing, her pedal-to-the-medal politicking for what I believe is a great cause—one that will nurture my family and so many other families I know, and you millions out there. We owe her our bottomless thanks because she’s taken that parent-as-advocate paradigm to its broadest level. “To me, the center of my life will always be raising my family. It is the complete joy of my life,” Pelosi once said. “To me, working in Congress is a continuation of that.”
I won’t 86 “I’ll take all 68″ as my favorite quote. But you know what? This one hits home too.
Photo by Life
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