Fresh As Ever: Pelosi's Perspective With 25 Years of Service
Nancy Pelosi looked like she had just arrived in Washington like a very well turned-out congressional freshman, full of energy, trailing pragmatic hope and ready to fight.
Instead, she was celebrating 25 years of service as the representative from San Francisco for California’s 8th congressional district in a one-on-one interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow at the historic Sewall-Belmont House and Museum on Capitol Hill June 8.
It was a bright-eyed, blue-skied Friday, around-lunch time event. Despite the fact that the media was calling the week a disastrous one for the Obama administration and Democrats in general, Pelosi, former Speaker of the House of Representatives, was upbeat, and even held out hope that the Dems could regain the House -- and thereby, it’s presumed, return her to the speakership.
Still, the Democrats had lost the recall challenge to the Governor of Wisconsin, which was being widely being interpreted as a severe political blow to Democratic election fortunes everywhere, and an even more hurtful blow to unions throughout the country.
But under a tent at the Sewall-Belmont House and Museum, which co-sponsored the event with the National Women’s History Museum, the atmosphere was electric and upbeat with an audience of mostly women—including some current and former congresswomen—and the media in attendance.
Maddow, a classy star in the national firmament of political commentators left and right, interviewed with an obvious dose of deference and admiration. Given that this was Pelosi’s celebration that tack was probably appropriate. Maddow’s presence—a television star, oh my—seemed to thrill the audience almost as Pelosi’s star turn.
Almost. Pelosi couldn’t have been in a better place to celebrate her own considerable achievements, most notably that for a brief but impactful time she was the first female Speaker of the House. The co-sponsors were organizations that celebrated the achievements of women not only in politics but through the course of American history. The Sewall-Belmont House, built at the turn of the 19th century, at what is now 2nd Street and Constitution Avenue, N.E., is a historic beacon and a vaunted beehive of the historic process of the fight for women’s rights when the National Woman’s Party purchased the home and made it its headquarters.
So, Pelosi and Maddow did their back-and-forth in two different contexts—the short term of the alarm—for Democrats—raised by events in Wisconsin, and the long term of history, looking back and moving forward.
“It was important, but maybe not so surprising,” Pelosi said about the recall results. “What it showed was the current advantage in money they [Republicans] have, and just how damaging that Supreme Court decision which led to super PACs was.”
“I have to tell you,” she said. “I have a hard time believing that I’ve been here 25 years,” she said. “I can’t believe so much time has passed. Honestly, I did not set out to become a lifer, and I’m still not. But the work is not yet done.”
Pelosi came to Congress in the 1980s, at a time when AIDS was ravaging the country’s gay community, but the country was not paying much attention, especially the Republican administration of Ronald Reagan. Reagan, it should be recalled, publically mourned the death of his Hollywood friend Rock Hudson, without ever once mentioning that Hudson had died of AIDS.
“To my mind, that was the first and most important thing I was going to deal with when I got here, and there was tremendous ignorance and indifference out there about AIDS,” she said. “I am proud of raising awareness, and leading the effort to provide the first American contribution to the Global Fund to fight AIDS.”
Pelosi became speaker after the mid-term elections of 2006, when the Republicans lost both the House and the Senate during President George W. Bush’s second term, and lost that position when the Republicans retook control of the House in January 2011.
“So, what have we accomplished in that time,” Pelosi was asked. “We passed a Health Care Bill, we, we’ve increased the minimum wage, the Stimulus Bill, TARP, Wall Street Reform, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, we’ve created jobs.”
Pelosi sounded the alarm on the GOP money advantage, about the creation of a plutocracy, where “the checkbooks of a few can determine political outcomes, where the arena is defined by others for others.”
“The money has poisoned the debate,” she said. “It leads to a lack of disclosure, voter suppression. If there is full disclosure, then we can win.”
She recalled Bush’s plans to privatize Social Security. “He seemed very confident when he talked about it. I thought, 'That’s not going to happen,' and we did not let it happen.”
“In terms of the economy, there’s a lot that remains to be done,” she said. “People do not realize that jobs were created, and equally important, jobs were saved. But it’s hard to make that message stick, that kind of invisible thing—think of how much worse things could have been. People want things to be better.”
That’s politics. The occasion itself—her endurance, her strengths, her many historic firsts, that’s history.
“I am honored to be here, in this place,” she said. “All of us can look across the street, see the Senate and House office buildings, the Capitol and know where we are. But right here, in this house, where so many women fought so many battles, being here is an honor.”