The sight of Nancy Pelosi calling the House of Representatives to order would make a shocking sight for someone paying no attention to politics for a year or two. Yet the San Francisco liberal, riding the crest of a wave of indignation that swept the Republicans out of power, is now the most powerful woman in the world and the major obstacle for George Bush’s war powers.
The press rejected the conservative distortion of Pelosi presented during the fall elections, as a crazed San Francisco liberal bent on destroying traditional values. Despite the rightful snub of this portrayal, nothing substantive has come to take its place. Pelosi remains a woman without a clear identity and the question remains: what sort of a politician is Pelosi?
As the war in Iraq wages on, the image of the leader of the de-escalation movement is being fought over with equal ferocity. Pelosi herself waged in: soon after taking her post, she appeared in Baltimore hoping to disassociate herself from San Francisco and appear as an old-school Democrat, representing a working-class population.
Becky O’Malley, writing for the Planet last week, bought into this image of Pelosi. Because of her age, O’Malley wants us to believe, “she’s just about old enough to remember real Democrats” and presumably is one herself. Pelosi is a different kind of politician—a Trumanite who does not shrug her responsibility to take care of the poor. It brings a tear to my eye just thinking about it.
Yet this tear is nothing in comparison to the tears that will flow once we are collectively disappointed by the promise of Pelosi. Why do I think this will happen? Precisely because Pelosi is not a different kind of politician at all—in fact, the only extraordinary thing is her outstanding ability to
successfully use typical political tactics.
Her rise through the Democratic Party has little to do with liberal activism and nearly everything to do with her ability to raise money. What she lacks in charisma she makes up in her penchant for fund raising—and there’s a lot of making up to do. Her election as minority leader was a collection of debts rather than heroic triumph. This, of course, simply means she is a typical politician.
And like a typical politician, she manipulates people by engaging in “framing.” In the war of publicity she has already retreated to a safer battle ground, out of San Francisco and into Baltimore. There she represents working-class European immigrants fighting poverty—an image that has been accepted into the American mainstream. What she leaves behind are the issues of the day—gay rights, animal rights, environmentalism, black and Hispanic rights, affirmative action, and all the rest. Even Becky O’Malley’s claim that Pelosi will help the poor is complicated by the interrelationship between poverty and, to take one example, racism.
In a political atmosphere where image is everything, Pelosi’s retreat from San Francisco is an acknowledgement of The City’s marginalization. The disassociation does nothing to help the marginalization groups of The City gain social respectability and, therefore, political power. Arguably, the opposite is accomplished.
All this is not to say that Pelosi will not vote for progressive policies that will benefit her constituency. There is little doubt she will. What seems equally certain is that she will not be at the forefront of that fight—she will not sacrifice the political capital (emphasis on capital) of the Democratic party for the sake of championing an unpopular or controversial cause. She will continue to ride the crests and troughs of the political ocean, hopefully staying afloat. It’s probably true that she is the best representative liberals have; but I see no reason to settle for that.
Gene Zubovich is a North Berkeley resident.