Speaker Nancy Pelosi offered effusive praise for the appointment of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State on Monday, saying the New York Democrat was an ideal fit for the post, would faithfully carry out Barack Obama's policies and serve as an inspiration to woman, much like Pelosi herself.
"I got a call this morning from Hillary Clinton, saying the announcement will be made," Pelosi recalled. "What an exciting moment. Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State. Thomas Jefferson [and now] Hillary Clinton."
Speaking at a Hunter College forum on the role of gender in politics, the Speaker downplayed the suggestion -- put forth in the form of a question -- that Clinton might face misogynistic obstacles on the world stage.
"None at all," she replied, when asked if this would be the case. "I have traveled the world as Speaker of the House... and I have seen the treatment I have received in these places. And I know the respect that they will have for soon to be Secretary of State Hillary Clinton... What is important to world leaders is, 'Does the president listen to you?'... She is a force in her own right and anybody that might have that thought that you mildly suggested does so at his peril."
But, if the Monday evening event was punctuated by optimism over the appointment of Clinton, Gov. Janet Napolitano (to the post of Director of Homeland Security), and Susan Rice (as UN Ambassador), it was defined by a continued lament over the gender-based challenges faced by female politicians. A large portion of the discussion focused on legislative defeats suffered at the hands of the Bush administration: on topics ranging from equal pay legislation and embryonic stem cell research to children's health insurance -- items that Pelosi said would be revived under an Obama administration.
But the most interesting topic of debate centered around whether Clinton and Sarah Palin were hindered by their sex while on the campaign trail. Both Pelosi and Rep. Carolyn Maloney were put in a tricky position, arguing that their Democratic colleague had been disadvantaged by her gender while Alaska's governor was not. But they made the case astutely, noting that the policies pursued by the McCain-Palin ticket were antithetical to women's interests, even if Palin's candidacy was a symbolic victory.
"It as a very contrasting case," said Maloney. "[Clinton] earned 18 million votes, inspired and led many people to live a better life. But at the same time there were hurdles there for her that were not there for her opponents... Back then, I thought someone should write a book about it. And someone has. It is called 'Rumors Of Our Progress Have Been Greatly Exaggerated,'" a reference to Maloney's own book.
"John McCain had a problem," she went on. "He had 20 years of anti-woman votes on his record... When he appointed Sarah Palin, he did nothing to help women or women's rights."
"[Palin's] lasting legacy is that the extreme right accepted a women with small children running for office," she concluded.