Friday, 5 November 2010

Nancy Pelosi, American Hero

As we bid farewell to Nancy Pelosi's Speakership, let's pause a moment to realise that the first female Speaker of the House of Representatives - the most powerful woman ever to serve in elected office in the USA - was also the most effective leader the Democrats have had in Congress for many generations.

Progressive, feminist, climate change hawk, child advocate, and proud San Fransican, Nancy was never a politician to win elections or legislative battles by selling out her beliefs. But win them she did.

Her term as Speaker was relatively short, but her accomplishments outrank most of her predecessors by a long way.

By any measure, Pelosi has been one of the most effective House speakers in American history, especially given her relatively short tenure. At Salon, Steve Kornacki offers a helpful recollection of her many accomplishments, from health care to student loan reform to the credit card bill of rights to cap and trade. Pelosi consistently delivered legislation that became law, as well as legislation that the Senate then stalled on and failed to pass. As Kornacki writes, Pelosi is unpopular less because of what the House has done or failed to do — most Americans have little idea of those particulars — but because the economy is bad and voters wanted someone to blame.

But there’s another factor that makes Pelosi that much easier to scapegoat: She is a woman — the highest-ranked woman ever to hold elective office in the United States. In January 2007, Pelosi gaveled in her first legislative session as speaker while cradling her newborn grandson (one of seven grandchildren) and surrounded by other legislators’ offspring, whom she had invited to the dais to celebrate. She spoke about her own journey from “kitchen to Congress” and promised that the Democratic Party would govern on behalf of children, and their mothers, too — a vow she fulfilled by collecting the votes to pass the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, which insures 11 million kids, and the Lily Ledbetter Act, which made it easier for victims of gender- and race-based pay discrimination to file civil rights complaints and collect back pay.

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