Nancy Pelosi… the real Princess Leia

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This post seems particularly relevant right now.

Conor Lamb, winner of the special Congressional election in Pennsylvania, pledged not to support her for Speaker. So has Danny O’Connor, the Democratic candidate in a hotly contested special election in Ohio. The new darling of the liberal movement, Representative-elect Alexandia Ocasio-Cortez has stated she is undecided on her vote for Speaker.

Pelosi’s reaction? As long as it helps elect Democrats, she doesn’t care what they say about her.

That’s typical Pelosi. She is the ultimate party animal. She grew up in a political family with a father who was the Mayor of Baltimore. As a newcomer to the San Francisco area, she became involved in Democratic politics, raising money for other candidates. Indeed, part of her strength has been her prodigious fundraising ability, most of which has benefited people other than herself. Many of those beneficiaries now plan to vote against her. Arguably, Democrats would not have retaken control of the House in 2006 without her hard work.

We may call the ACA “Obamacare,” but it could just as easily be referred to as “Pelosicare.” Consider the circumstances. In 2009, the Democrats had a veto-proof majority in the Senate as well as a substantial majority in the House. Pelosi at the time was Speaker. With a Democratic President, it seemed like we would finally achieve our long-time dream of a national healthcare plan. After much deliberation and many hearings — in stark contrast to how the Republicans have operated since 2016 — the Senate passed a healthcare bill. The bill was certainly imperfect, but most bills are. It would then go to the House of Representatives which would pass their own bill, then a conference committee would reconcile the two, then both the House and the Senate would have to vote again to pass the revised bill.

After the Senate passed the bill with the requisite 60 votes to overcome a filibuster, a special election was held in Massachusetts. In an ironic outcome given Ted Kennedy’s long advocacy for national healthcare, Massachusetts elected a relatively liberal Republican to replace him after his death. The result seemed to doom the ACA since now Republicans had enough votes to block the vote on a reconciled bill. Then Nancy Pelosi picked up the ball.

Her strategy was to pass the Senate bill, flawed as it was, without any changes. If she succeeded in so doing, the bill would become law since both chambers had passed it. Typically, legislation comes back to both chambers to resolve any differences, but passing the same bill would make that requirement moot.

This was no easy task. Criticism of the ACA, although largely baseless was intense. Furthermore, there were some legitimate problems with the bill that would have been addressed in negotiations between the House and Senate. Now those problems would become part of the final bill. Some of those problems persist to this day and make up many of the issues the law’s critics point to. Finally, there was a large wing of the Democratic party that felt the ACA did not go far enough. Instead, they wanted more of a Medicare-for-all single payer type system. At least, they wanted people to be able to buy into Medicare with a “public option.” These approaches were not part of the Senate bill, and they produced substantial frustration on the part of House Democrats.

Leading the House has been analogized to herding cats. Despite these many difficulties, Pelosi managed to get a majority of the House to vote for the ACA, without a single Republican vote. This was a singular accomplishment and Pelosi deserves all the credit.

Some may say that Pelosi is too old at 78. But just recently, she spoke on the House floor at length, breaking a long-standing record, holding up House deliberations to advocate for the “Dreamers,” young undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children. Many have commented on the fact that she completed this task on stiletto heels. I’m 50 and I wish I had her energy.

What’s especially outrageous, however, is how the criticisms of Pelosi seem to come up again and again for women leaders. Where a man would be praised as being tough and strong, a woman is criticized as being shrill or bithcy. Such criticisms dogged Hillary Clinton throughout her career, and they have taken a toll on Elizabeth Warren’s popularity. Not surprisingly, these are the kinds of criticisms also leveled at Pelosi.

Sarah Myles wrote an amazing post characterizing Princess Leia from Star Wars as a feminist icon. Her description of Leia as tough and uncompromising might lead some, including Han Solo early in the series, to call her shrill of bitchy. Throughout the series, though, we come to see her as an effective and visionary leader. Perhaps it’s time to start seeing Nancy Pelosi in the same way. Certainly, her record demands it.

Mike is an Assistant Professor of Management for Legal and Ethical Studies at Oakland U. Mike combines his scholarship with practical experience in politics.

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