|On the radar: Pat Schroeder and Alison Friedman Reflect on Nancy Pelosi
Having navigated that testosterone-filled pool known as the U.S. Congress, I felt that electing a woman president was more doable than having a woman Speaker. Whatever made me draw that conclusion? I worked on Shirley Chisholm's race for chair of the Democratic Caucus, for Mary Rose Oakar's race for the same position, and for Gerry Ferraro when she ran for a leadership position. Each time, we looked people in the eye, asked if they would vote for our candidate, counted our votes.... and were shocked at how many members lied and voted the other way. (It made me hate secret ballots.) Apparently, some members felt women had such marginal influence in Congress that there would be no fallout if they broke their promises.
After these experiences, I couldn't believe a woman would be in leadership, especially the speakership, until women were half the membership of Congress. Women still compose only about 16 percent, so the fact Nancy Pelosi became Speaker with those odds says a lot about her and how well she is respected.
I first met Nancy when she chaired the Democratic convention in San Francisco in 1984. She came to Washington and wanted to meet with all the Congresswomen, asking our opinions about a myriad of things. We were in shock. No chair of the convention had ever done that before-or since, I might add. Nancy is the whole package: beautiful, smart and politically savvy beyond belief. She has politics in her DNA. She told the story of how, when she was a small child, she would tour Baltimore with her dad, the mayor. You can imagine what a charmer she was, and getting on-the-job training at that age was great experience. People would ask her what they always ask children-"What do you want to be when you grow up?"-and Nancy would reply perkily, "I am going to be a priest so I can help people." Of course the questioner would giggle or snicker. Finally, Nancy 's family had to explain to her she needed another career choice because women weren't priests. So, she decided to be a politician because she wanted to help people one way or another.
Nancy has never wavered on any woman's issue, including choice, even though her grandmother and others in her family were less than pleased. She has never wavered on any progressive issue either, or compromised on issues of basic human values. Nancy drove the Chinese nuts. They could not get her to back down on her human rights stance with promises of trade or anything else.
People often are cynical about politicians today, feeling they stand for something only until a better deal comes along. Do not be cynical about Nancy . She may have to compromise with others to get something passed, but she will never change her own personal position.
When I looked at running for President in 1988, I traveled around testing the waters. I would let members know when I was in their area, and most of them couldn't join me because they needed to wash their dog or some other lame excuse. Not Nancy . When I was in San Francisco she would show up. She felt women needed to support each other. Radical thought!
OK, you say, so why did the guys vote for her for Speaker? They were in total awe. She has more energy in her little finger than most have in their whole bodies. She raises money like there is no tomorrow. She always keeps her word-so they trust her.
I'm not sure she can trust a lot of the male members, however, because a large number of them told her they would vote for Jack Murtha for majority leader and didn't (that damn secret ballot again). The media went nuts: What a huge defeat on her first go! Well, Nancy felt the voters had spoken on the Iraq war and a change was needed to show the message was received. She didn't go out unprepared-she called, campaigned, spoke to the Caucus explaining her choice, counted the votes....then lost.
We all need to rally around Nancy . She will be a great Speaker. She got the Democrats to vote together 88 percent of the time in the last Congress-talk about a miracle worker! The media is picking at her dress, her voice, her loss in the race for majority leader, her so-called " San Francisco values." Ever hear Dennis Hastert's dress or voice discussed when he was Speaker?
The Republicans have really torn up the legislative process over the last 12 years of their power trip. It will take a grand vision and a huge amount of work to restore Congress to its Constitutional position. Nancy Pelosi-rooted, raised and grounded in values and politics-is just the "man" for the job.
Pat Schroeder was a Democratic member of the U.S. Congress from Colorado from 1973 to 1997. She is now president and CEO of the Association of American Publishers.
I was born in 1979-six years after Roe v. Wade became law and one before Ronald Reagan took office. Like many in my generation, I took the right to privacy for granted, but I also grew up in a political climate that treated government as a necessary evil rather than a force for good. Indeed, if there is a commonality among the political winners in my lifetime, it is that they sold themselves as being against "big government." On both the Democratic and Republican sides of the aisle, many successful politicians since 1980 have anchored their governing philosophy on three tenets: Taxes are evil, government is inefficient and "the people" know better than the government. As a result of those omnipresent messages, many in my generation grew up believing that anything government can do, private industry can do better. From prisons, to our water supply, to Iraq's rebuilding, to school vouchers, many of us have assumed that the privatization of basic services and resources is inevitable.
Even worse, we've grown to expect very little from our government representatives. We have followed our mostly male leaders into a forgetfulness about what government can be. We're disillusioned, and after the past 6 years of fear-mongering, rights-restricting, zealot-appointing, civilian-killing and citizen-spying governance, who can blame us?
Nancy Pelosi could change that. With the perspective she brings as a woman, mother and lawmaker, she has committed to making progress right away. And with the agenda she directs, she could remind U.S. citizens about the basic compact we make with humanity. Government, she could show us once again, can still play a critical role in ensuring a safety net for the sick, the poor, the old and the cruelly unlucky.
With her newly won power, she could encourage this country to rebuild the houses in the Mississippi gulf, and reconstruct our reputation overseas. She could help us reclaim the honor and integrity promised in 2000 but belied by Abu Ghraib, Karl Rove and Tom DeLay. And when she's done fixing the problems she had no hand in creating, she might show my generation a government we're proud to support: one that provides a living wage, stem-cell research, affordable health care, election integrity, privacy in our bedrooms and our wombs, educational opportunity for our children, satisfying jobs, and an economic policy that breeds success at every level of the economic spectrum.
Under Pelosi, the federal government could help secure 401Ks for our retirees, and Individual Development Accounts for those on the way to retirement; she could help protect Pell Grants for college students, and Children's Savings Accounts so that every child might afford college. And she could do it all in a fiscally responsible, debt-reducing way, shifting the tax burden from the middle class to the wealthiest corporations, who have long used anti-big-government talking points to get out of paying their fair share.
As Speaker, Nancy Pelosi could return to my generation what other generations experienced under John F. Kennedy and Franklin Roosevelt: a pride in our government, an understanding of its role and an expectation that government will hasten, rather than retard, progress. She could give young people our first real chance to have a thoughtful debate about what kind of government we want from our representatives. Together we might find an adjective that, unlike "big," stands up to scrutiny and directs a broader policy approach.
After all, it's not the size of the government that really counts-it's how you use it.
Alison Kiehl Friedman was a Ms. community member before she could read, and has long considered running for office.