In the runup to the mid-term elections last year, I was among many Democrats who felt a bit queasy about the prospect of Nancy Pelosi returning as Speaker of the House, assuming the Dems took control of the chamber. Fresh start, clean slate, she’d been so demonized by the opposition as the quintessential radical San Francisco liberal—maybe we should start anew with a younger face who wouldn’t be yoked to the past so we could usher in a less encumbered generation of leadership.
All of that was in the air, and I was breathing it in, not in great gulps, but tentatively, as through a straw.
Then I just happened to behold her in a “60 Minutes” interview they may as well have entitled, “Hear Nancy Roar.”
What a beast, I realized. We’d be crazy to let this fierce woman’s cojones go to waste as just another representative from California.
In her interview, she emphasized, in pointed, don’t-mess-with-me terms, that of course Trump and the Republicans had done everything possible to sully her reputation and were trying their damndest to make sure she did not return as speaker.
Why would they be doing that, ya think?
Her great courage is in refusing to be cowed by male bullies who think, in the time-honored tradition of male patriarchy, that they can ‘put her in her place…’
Pelosi knew the answer, even if many Democrats hadn’t quite realized it at the time. She wasn’t so much bragging as she was simply stating a dead-on fact with that dead-serious stare of hers: Because she is effective, and powerful, and Republicans would love nothing better than to be rid of her.
Bring on some nice boring white guy from the midwest, would have been their preference. “Someone we can work with.”
That’s when I knew that whatever agitation would be coming from either Republicans or young turk Dems fresh to Congress who wanted someone younger, hipper to the ways of social media, and even, gasp, more lefty than Pelosi, she would wind up eating them all for lunch, primly holding the napkin to her lips afterwards with a coy Hannibal Lecter-like smile tugging at the corners of her mouth.
Most reasonable people want to see the two major political parties get along with at least some degree of mutual respect. We want them to swing deals, after all the bloviating for the cameras is done, that will inch our country forward, however haltingly, in the heave ’n ho democracy that was so adroitly conjured by our Founders.
Indeed, I thought (way mistakenly, it turns out), that Trump himself would look to be more that kind of president than not, fancying himself the master dealmaker as he does. But then his victory turned out to be as much a product of the radical Christian right, Obama haters, and out-and-out racists as it was a statement of traditional mainstream Republican voters. That saw Trump veering further and staying so hard right and desperate that all the baseline ugliness of his character burst forth in full poisonous flower.
We all know the tortured history from there, Trump creating such a climate of chaos and no-holds-barred schoolyard bullying that he put opponents—among them countless loyal Republicans—in an impossible bind. Their choice was either to get down in the pigpen with him for an exhausting and debasing mud wrestle, or adopt a loftier, restrained approach, playing by rules that don’t exist anymore—and thereby getting their brains beat out by a remorseless opponent who delights in their naiveté and regards it as just another notch on his “Winner’s” belt.
Enter Madam Chair.
Pelosi’s great genius is she knows what power is about—who has it, who doesn’t, what its limits and possibilities are.
Her great courage is in refusing to be cowed by male bullies who think, in the time-honored tradition of male patriarchy, that they can “put her in her place,” shame her, swat the uppity, ball-crushing bitch away like a bothersome gnat and pave the way once again for the boys to convene in their power suites where they determine the fate of the world.
Men like Trump, and the hapless Wilbur Ross, he of the $700 million fortune who couldn’t understand why 800,000 furloughed federal workers couldn’t just stroll down the street to their neighborhood bank and take out a loan to get them through the government shutdown.
These are men who have convinced themselves their business “success” and outsized fortunes are due strictly to their tireless hard work and smarts, which thus qualifies them to tell everyone else what to do and why they should appreciate being told how to do it.
Men who don’t appreciate and can’t fathom it when a Nancy Pelosi tells them, “No, I won’t allow that.”
Bracing, is what that is. And forever instructive for the Ocasio-Cortezes and all the others of her generation who have been watching. I hope they’re appreciating what they have seen here as the government shutdown apparently comes to an end—at least for the next three weeks—with Trump declaring in the Rose Garden today how “proud” he was to announce it. (Right, to be thoroughly humiliated, brought to heel and forced to surrender to Madam Evil Nemesis, oh yes, he is having the time of his life on this Friday afternoon…)
Nancy Pelosi has been carrying a heavy weight for a very long time, not only on behalf of her party, but probably more far-reachingly, her gender. She’s like a running back with several 300-pound linemen draped on her, tearing at her hair, gouging her eyes, all while she lumbers relentlessly forward, hard-won inch by inch, her eyes singularly focused on the goal, showing how to stare down a colossal bully while making the world her female successors inhabit safer and more rife with opportunity than it ever could have been without her and her wise steely ways.
A little old, a little new, a buncha fun…
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Elizabeth Haslam, whose photos (except for the books) grace the rotating banner at top of page.
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